‘Things are worse than they’ve ever been.’ Determined to drink in the sights and sounds of the same moment and long line I occupied, these words rode the good waves of strong coffee in the air and fixed themselves inside my ear. Whether curious or nosey I prefer not to say and I pretended a casual peek back to locate the I-guessed-elder owner of the gravelly omen and admired his skin-soft overalls.
His words had launched off a drain-swirling testament of the state of things with his company who appeared to be of the same mind right down to his choice in denim.
Besides weatherly appraisals, I know little of more oft-spoken suppositions.
And it’s just plain truth each time this terrible string of foreboding is spoken.
The world was plucked out of the deep from, is pressed into the great Milky Way by, and shall return, I suspect, swallowed up in one big gulp of darkness.
And still we are as dizzied by that as we are the number of weather patterns Texas holds in a single day.
There’s an old Chinese proverb made famous by the lady Eleanor Roosevelt which declares, ‘It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.’
I hear an elegantly uttered nugget of wisdom like this and my heart lifts like a balloon stuffed under my shirt in a strong hope for the good of all of us bound by a human condition.
Second to breath, a torch of hope gives the hand of life down to dirt-dead bones.
There’s something that rallies in all of us that good wins and a well-worded proverb can be like a shot of courage in the arm at ever the right time.
But toe to toe with hope and sometimes muscling for more space?
Is a white-eyed, nostril-flared wild mustang defiance down deep in the soul…sometimes not that buried.
In a third grade group exercise near the middle of the 1980’s, Coach Hogg leveled us kids one by one with his eyes because he was sick to his death of namby-pamby nine year old knee bends and maybe liked tripping on a little power, ‘We are going to do one bend all together this time. All. Together.’ He stuck that glinting whistle between his teeth like a cigarette in a western and blew smoke from it indicating our turn at compliance. I’m pretty sure I remember a tumbleweed crawling across the ground from behind the seesaws.
I was a quiet kid who caught people-pleasing early on so there was no way to foresee that a gray fog would roll over my eyes and my fingernails would dig into my palms as my legs locked up and I could not have bent if I pressed my knees down with my own hands. In two seconds, the perfect third grade body knee bend had been executed. Minus one.
You could have knocked Coach Hogg over with a strong breath.
I spent the rest of recess walking punishing laps and wondering who I was and where did I come from and how I was going to explain this to my parents after school. Since then, I’ve met this girl time and again and now I know she can be some trouble.
Maybe don’t tell me what to do.
And for sure don’t be mean about it.
While every stitch and hem of me wants to buy the world a Coke and teach it harmony, the rebel in me has a certain itchy finger for the darkness and understands those fizzy bubbles come with a high cost.
Depending on how you hold it, peace and love and joy and hope are less cotton candy and more brass knuckle and I might argue all day that lighting a candle is one side of the cursing.
Something in us strains up like a starving plant towards the sun and is this simple will alone not in itself a rending from the dark? It looks like bubble-soft peace, but any one person on the other side of a lit candle feels the sore and bloody-knuckled battle through hell for the hope they hold in their hands.
They tell the shadows where to go.
What we’re really saying to darkness when we choose to hold the light is, ‘You may have your space simply because you exist, but you will go no further.’
I am ever grateful for the faithful warriors who make lighting candles look like a dance of soft grace. Because some of us are still just third graders about it.