on Darkness

“Fear grows in darkness; if you think there’s a bogeyman around, turn on the light.” Dorothy Thompson (1893-1961), American journalist and radio broadcaster

The American people seemed to have been slammed against the wall this week.  We experienced the first major civilian bombing since 9/11 which killed three and severely injured over a hundred others. Tragedy struck again as the small town of West, Texas was rocked by a fertilizer plant explosion that killed 14, including 10 of their volunteer firefighters, and destroyed several blocks of homes and businesses. Old wounds were ripped open after Boston. But as a resident of small town in Iowa, which also has our own volunteer fire force, the destruction in Texas also hit very close to home. Darkness seemed to overwhelm the week, as we experienced both the depth of human capacity for evil, as well as devastating accidental tragedy.

We don’t yet know why these two men in Boston thought that killing innocent civilians would promote their world view, presumably that of radical Islam. How can men, who fled to and then enjoyed the fruits of freedom in America, possibly hate a country that had given them and their families so much? Nor can we even understand the depths of fear and anger that could drive our own government to suspend the liberty and property rights of an entire city in order to catch one man. Clearly, in Boston, we saw what hate, anger and fear can drive people to do, or even allow others to do.

Then sometimes, bad things just happen, which just does seem fair. As in the case of West, Texas they can occur so suddenly and so tragically, that we are left reeling from the randomness and the inability to blame someone. This horrible explosion took so much, so quickly away from a small town. Like Boston, the shock of what happened still seems so raw and unreal. It is hard to believe that a week ago, life was normal. Then, this week, life changed. And not just for West, or for Boston, but for all of America.

Yet, Americans are a resilient bunch, and we shine like no other country in times of tragedy. Even as people were fleeing the destruction, others were rushing in to help the wounded. We immediately rose up as one to help those in need. The lines that supposedly divide rich and poor, young and old, male and female, race and race, disappeared as we all banded together in support of each other, resisting the darkness that clouded all of our hearts this week. Yet again, Americans showed our national motto to be true; we may be many, but when it matters most, we are truly one. Perhaps that alone should reveal something about who we really are, and that the lines that politicians use divide us really don’t exist at all.

Americans are used to mixing our sweat with our tears, even as we are yet still shaking the ashes of tragedy from our bodies. We know in our core that we must stand up and press on; after all, laying down is the posture of defeat. The darkness we see in a human heart can devastate, demoralize and overwhelm us very easily. We can lose hope and focus on how much we have lost. But we must remember that darkness is limited. It is not all powerful. It will always be driven back by the lighting of just a single candle.  Well, we saw many candles of caring humanity this week, did we not? And they not only drove back the darkness, but also uncovered those who seemed to revel in it. Do not be discouraged. Let us as Americans continue to be the light givers, so that those who continue to thrive in darkness have no choice but to flee.

“Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.” ~ Anne Frank (1929-1945), Holocaust victim, whose diary documenting the German occupation of the Netherlands was published after her death at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp

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