It’s that time of the year again.
The semester slowly begins to drag itself to an end, the weather chills and bites, and the Christmas music plays on a continuous rotation in every store (despite the fact it’s barely even November yet).
For many, the holiday season is a time of excitement and joy. Families help cook the Thanksgiving meal together. Adults and children both delight in the trimming of the Christmas tree. The shimmering lights go up. The smell of sweet sugar cookies wafts across the kitchen.
For others, this month is hard.
Perhaps, this is the first holiday season without a loved one at their side. The chair is empty this year. It’s a bleak reminder that they will soon be facing a new year – without them.
Maybe, they are alone this year. Alone in the streets. Alone in the hospital. Alone in their apartment. They may even be surrounded by many, but still have hearts and minds placed in solitary confinement – not by choice. Some may simply be too overwhelmed, and their mind is far too deep into the sensations that surround the holidays.
Possibly, the trauma resurfaces for them. Past memories are not warm and fuzzy. There isn’t hot chocolate, cheesy movies, or an Elf on the Shelf making mischief. Instead, screaming. Arguments, traumatic flashbacks, and the smell of something they would much rather forget. Strong emotions, but they are far stronger – and they don’t even know.
There’s even a chance that they don’t know why it’s so hard. Brains are a bit quirky that way. Sometimes there is no reason to feel sad, but human emotions rarely stand to rationality.
For a season of hope and joy, there’s not always enough to go around. In today’s climate, our worlds become dominated in fear.
The news gets bleaker, the days are colder in many different ways, but there has to be a little light shining somewhere.
A little ray of hope to shine into the fear. Something to make it more bearable.
A little hope won’t cure chronic depression or trauma; I’ve tried. I’ve begged. I’ve cried.
Little by little, though, hope shines through. A trembling torch in a swirling vortex.
It’s not a cure. A candle isn’t necessarily going to illuminate the entirety of the void.
For that brief moment, however, a corner is bright. That spark of hope is enough.
It reminds me of the candlelight vigil we held when I was in high school, a dark moment of loss. The autumn air was bitter, and the wind reveled in blowing out our candles – a bleak reminder of how each candle is extinguished so easily. My senior year of high school, we lost quite a few students.
Most teenagers consider themselves invincible. With my own mental health, I had the opposite thought. I waited in fear, even as a child, expecting to be plunged in my own darkness at any time. The loss of close friends, family, and so much more catches up quickly. Even one candlelight vigil is one too many.
The thing about vigils is that it’s such an emotional time, and humans cling to whatever representation and comfort they can find. When that happens, candles begin to represent human lives, hope, or perhaps even something more.
The problem is, however, that they never last long enough. The wind blows them out, they’re clumsily dropped, the candle burns down. Seems apt, really.
But, when it comes to hope, there is a marvelous thing about them.
When I was at the vigil, I noticed a curious thing. Every time someone’s candle blew out, another stranger from the crowd would offer their candle to light it back up. If the candle burnt out, others would offer to share their candlelight with them. If a child became scared of the flame, someone would reassure and help them adjust their grip to feel safer.
I can’t help but think that something magical happens as someone else lights a candle. It’s a fascinating concept to me.
As a candle is extinguished, its flame is rekindled when in contact with another still lit.
This is how a candlelight vigil begins. One small flame ignites another, and it spreads. From hand to hand, the warmth is gently passed on.
Two candles together may create more light to illuminate the void, but the joy comes in more than merely the brightness. It’s the closeness, the feeling of solidarity as a sea of candlelight floods the crowd. It’s that quiet compassion that shows up in the midst of tragedy. When you think the world is a rotten and horrible place, people begin to show up in mass to confront the darkness.
And it all starts with one little candle.
This is how a revolution begins. Just a small spark in the hands of one person, clutching a candle and aching in every step they take.
In the midst of the heartbreak, the loneliness, the fear – hope is slowly passed from one hand to another’s. It may not brighten the entire universe we inhabit, but it makes a world of a difference for the person holding the candle.
Life is far too precious, and it’s meant to be treasured. The human condition is full of tragedies, suffering, and pain. This is a given.
However, our existence is also peppered with moments of joy, instances of heartwarming compassion, a quiet hope that’s always followed humanity since dawn arose for the very first time.
This holiday season, in every season, pass the candlelight on.
Reach out to those in mourning. Be a companion to the lonely. Support those in recovery. Reassure and encourage those in fear and distress. Extend compassion and support to others who might be struggling.
Even the smallest spark of hope can be enough. A little hope goes a long way.
And over the past twenty years, I’ve made one singular observation that has not yet failed me:
Hope defeats fear, every time.