all the little lights

I sparked my first match when I was six years old, in the harvest season, for the Festival of Lights. It was a matchbook stick and my big brother helped me tear it off. The cardboard end was unnaturally angled, and bent even further when I gently slid it against the rough striker on the back of the folded book.

My fingers already smelled and I wrinkled my nose. Sulfer dioxide, my brother said, answering the unasked question, and I repeated the words with a grownup nod.

The light didn’t appear, so he patiently instructed me to try it again.  I did, quickly this time, with ferocity and purpose. I still remember the flame sputtering to life– as if it had always been there, just waiting for me to bring the shape of it to reality. I never really even notice matches anymore.  But then, it was new– the air was heavy with the smell of burning, my fingers were warm, and my heart was racing.  I lit the little wax candle in front of me, and then quickly blew the burn of the matchstick away. The smoke was a dark foggy place where a light once blazed, and I breathed it in as I watched my candle dance in the moonlight.

It was just a little light, but even a little light pushes back the darkness.

I knew there were thousands of little girls and boys doing the same thing that night, throughout the world.  All our lights were little– like our hands, like our lives–  but we all knew there was nothing like a million little lights to brighten a path.

We all share the same darkness, even though we each come face to face with different shapes of it, so any light brightens the way because we all share the same light.  One light.

Loss is a darkness many of us have touched, shaped like the life that no longer is.

In my case, it is an expansive darkness, shaped like a person and the loss of dreams. A space shaped like a husband.   There is another dark space right next to him, a pile of books that he never got a chance to write.  There’s the darkness where our home went and the dark space where we would have stood in the dance formation at my little sister’s wedding.

I know you have a dark spot too.  This day might be the day that it first appeared.  This year, last year, or maybe even a dozen years ago, or three dozen– it doesn’t matter.  Time doesn’t fight darkness, only light does.

I don’t know the shape of your dark spaces, and I’m not sure I’ll ever have a right to know.   I don’t have the right words to give you, and I’m not absolutely sure they exist at all.

I know that there’s absolutely nothing I can do to fill the dark spaces of your heart with substance, and I don’t know you would want me to even if I could.

But I do know what I knew back then, in the fall of my sixth year of life– that we share the same darkness, and we share the same light, and the flame is only waiting on us to shape itself into reality.

So for you, today, I am striking a match, in hopes it softens the edges of your dark.  In hopes that it illuminates the you that I know, and love, and see– even now when your heart is so entrenched in the empty.

In hopes that thousands of other lights are lit for you too, and that all those little lights together push the darkness back just far enough for you to take in one itsy tinsy tiny breath of light,

and take one itsy tinsy tiny step forward past tonight, straight toward a light we all share,

the promising dawn of tomorrow.

A little light
Lyn sent this photo to me after reading this. Isn’t she the best?