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“Don’t curse the darkness. Light a candle.” Chinese proverb, photo credit to Christy Young

“Don’t curse the darkness. Light a candle.” Chinese proverb (Photo by Christy Young)

I finished raking the yard yesterday evening about 11, just before bedtime.

Prior to taking the rake off its hook and rolling the green garbage receptacle to our front yard, I sat cross-legged on a wicker chair in our living room and talked anxiously for more than an hour.

My husband John yawned, letting me know he was tired even though I was nowhere near finished questioning how to stop 20 children from being killed in their classrooms.

Not one bit closer to an answer or peace or sleep, it seemed now was as good a time as any to do yard work. Our lawn was well lit by a front porch light, along with the streetlight. Rain stopped an hour earlier and I learned wet oak leaves rake easier than dry ones.

The rake scraped over the yard while I recalled some 32 years ago, John swinging an ax every spare minute for three days in a row and into the evenings. He stacked the wood high enough for dozens of fires even though the previous winter we’d only burned one.

Kind of like my raking, I guess chopping wood was all he could think to do the day after a masked gunman attempted to rob him outside a restaurant he managed in Columbia, S.C.

At gunpoint, John handed over the restaurant’s bank deposit and the keys to his car. He turned around like he was told and walked slowly across the parking lot without looking back.

A policeman, making his final round, happened upon the scene. He pulled his squad car between John and the gunman. The gunman ran, but when several police surrounded him, he turned the gun on himself.

The 26-year-old armed robber, only four years older than we were at the time, knew the nightly routine because he’d recently been fired from the restaurant chain in a nearby town. The police found photos in a wallet of his wife and daughter.

When I picked up John from the restaurant that evening, I hugged him, but detached from the story. We didn’t discuss it for years.

I noticed anytime negative things happened, I didn’t curse the darkness or even ask God “why” so much as I tried to figure out how to make it all stop … the bad things, the painful and sad feelings, and the fear. I tried to avoid, or at least distance myself, from anything unpleasant, as well as alleviate the same from lives of family and friends. Acceptance seldom came to mind.

Last Friday was no different. When I heard the news about Sandy Hook Elementary, the conversations in my head commenced.  

“I’m relieved our kids have graduated and no longer attend public schools,” but then I thought about our grandchildren. Our first is due in July.

“This sort of thing happens up north,” but the truth is it also happens in the east, the west, and in a restaurant parking lot in the south.

“My kindergarten teaching days are over and thankfully without incident,” but I can’t ignore someone else’s teaching days were cut short and not by choice.

“Sandy Hook Elementary is far away and I didn’t know the children who were harmed,” but now I do, through emails and Facebook and blogs, and each of their young faces reminds me of one I taught.

No rationalization lessened the hurt. It never does, but I’ve kept trying. Still, I can never muster enough indifference, or push the victims far enough away.

I only get crazier trying, which means if I really want to help, I come to terms with not understanding, with feeling shaken and out of control, with lighting a candle when I prefer to ignore the darkness.     

  • Light a Candle – I’ll mail a card because I have to do something. I always have to do something. Here’s the address if you have to also:

             Sandy Hook Elementary School
             12 Dickenson Drive
             Sandy Hook, CT 06482

  • Light a Candle – I’ll accept I can’t eradicate darkness by ignoring it, any more than by cursing it. I can, however, pray for the family of John’s gunman who I’m sure has not forgotten even though it’s been decades, and for the family of Sandy Hook Elementary’s gunman who won’t forget even when decades have passed.
  • Light a Candle – I’ll pray for the children’s parents and the staff’s families, that the upcoming holiday feels gentle, that life feels gentle. I’ll pray this for all victims, everywhere.
  • Light a Candle – I’ll grieve and be angry when appropriate, but I will not debate who is to blame – God, parents, gun advocates, a flawed system. It doesn’t matter and only intensifies the darkness.
  • Light a Candle – I’ll focus on what is good and right in the world. When life turns out to be the opposite, I’ll act maturely, taking responsibility for whatever is mine to do. Rather than sticking my head in the sand, I’ll face pain and respect that it serves a purpose even when I don’t know what that purpose is. I’ll listen instead of interrupting with neatly packaged answers (see link below).

How do you cope with pain and sadness? What can you add to the candle lighting list?

WRite wHere I’m supposed to be – Pain is unpreventable, however, lighting a candle prevents darkness.

On the side: Click on its title to read a post about what to say and what not to say at a time like this, “Please Don’t Give Me a Christian Answer” by Proverbs 31 founder Lysa TerKeurst.

Thoughts about what we can do from “Brave in Brokenness” by Kelly Rae Roberts.

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