At times, the awareness of what it all means escapes us, and at other times, we totally comprehend the meaning yet cannot find the courage to share it. Writers have a responsibility to bring some kind of meaning to events both large and small, happy and sad, and we toil to bring sense out of the senseless.
This is where the authentic, sad, and monstrous stuff of life threatens to immobilize the very people who carry the light. We stand with the votive candle in our trembling hands, fearful the rain and wind will extinguish the only light we have. In past times it has. This was before. It was before we realized we had these candles for a reason. We do not need to figure out why we have them. We need to figure out what to DO with them while there is still time. Tonight I will light and relight and keep lighting my small source of light until others find the courage to do the same.
At the Vermont Studio Center last summer, I made a tiny and casual observation at the conference table of twenty or so writers who had come to study the craft of candle bearing. During the introductions, each was doing his or her best to present himself as someone who had studied, accomplished, published, and was continuing to do even more. As I listened to each one, I was in awe of the talent, the degrees, and the literary work they were doing on a daily basis. For example, one handsome youth who appeared to be about 17, was actually a college professor who was working to translate Chinese poetry into English.
I had nothing to compare. I sat quietly, hoping to be skipped, but one of them said, “What about you? Are you hiding back there?” It was said in jest and with great kindness, but I actually was hiding because I had nothing to say to make myself relevant in such company. Instead I proffered this, “I am Tandy Belt, and I write reality. I am an online blogger. I also write creative non-fiction.” They seemed interested and also surprised. I felt bold enough to continue, “I have been listening to all of you and I must say the credentials are very impressive! I am in awe of each one of you, but I want to say one thing: In the dark of night, when you are alone and afraid you are not quite good enough, smart enough, or talented enough to continue, remember that you are. In your own individual way, in all kinds of areas of effort, you are keeping the light alive. If someone comes by you and blows out your candle, light it again, and again and AGAIN. This is what I do, and will always do, and I will never let my candle go out permanently.” I said it emphatically, because I meant it.
I am telling no lie. Every single face around that table registered some combination of relief, agreement, empowerment and appreciation for what I had said, and I was surprised. But simple truth has relevance, and is always immediately recognized. It removes fear and brings goodness out of hiding. It is empowering, even when stated with apprehension.
The next day, many came up to me, seeking me out for a private word. I was absolutely stunned. One sweet and shy girl said, “We had a gathering last night and talked for hours about what you said yesterday. We all appreciated it so much!” Then she embraced me, and kissed me on the cheek!
Seriously? I learned something important right then and there. It is not the published work, the PhD, or the high paying position at a prestigious school that brings security, because we are all afraid. We all need encouragement. We are all lonely, wounded, doubtful of our own worthiness to continue. It is this pervasive fear that drives us to write, to light those candles, to hope.
Tonight I am struggling to light a candle whose wick is wet. My matches are damp. My hands shake. Even here in the darkness, I cannot stop struggling to find a way to get it done. AGAIN.
The numbing cold left behind by the massacre of kindergarteners in Newtown, Connecticut threatens to keep me in darkness once and for all. Rain pelts my face, and has the sting of icy fingers around my throat. I have nothing to say, I plead. Let me hide my failure. Let me give up my hope. But my own words come back to haunt me so I keep struggling against the odds. How can I think of even one thing to say?! My candle is extinguished. Yet I remember I am a light carrier, and people are waiting. A feminine voice taunts from a faraway corner. “And what about YOU? Are you HIDING back there?” THE VOICE IS MY OWN.
I strike the match one last time, and there is a small flame. I hold it to the wick until my fingers get hot. It fires and sputters, but the light has come. The flame transfers to the candle and I drop the match with great relief. I hold my candle carefully as the comforting light expands so I can see those who are suffering all around me. I am not alone. I was never alone.
I hold it up and the faces, though twisted with grief, turn to the sudden light. There is an instant awareness not one of us was ever truly alone, despite our perceptions moments before. The light reveals gaps in the crowd. We have missing. The small spaces between some parents…the tall spots among families with children. We have 28 gaps all told. We all see the gaps and say nothing.
What is most painful about being a light carrier is having to recognize both good and evil. We must accept and acknowledge that both are true and exist simultaneously. The simple truth I must share now is this: It is in our own individual power to change the balance of it. In addition, we are powerless to make that change for anyone else.
Someone blew my candle out, but I have managed to light it once more. I will do this again. This is my decision, even if I were the only one left who was able to do so. I encourage you to do the same.