This is the third in a series of year-end reflections on kindness and gratitude.
Yesterday, December 21st, was the Winter Solstice, the darkest day of the year. Today, December 22nd, brings us more light than yesterday. Each of the coming days, until the Summer Solstice in June, the light will build, slowly, nearly unseen. This is why early Christians chose December 25th to remember of birth of Jesus of Nazareth, whose actual birth the world did not notice. Christians understood his birth to mean– more light came into the world– and so they chose the days around the Winter Solstice. More light. The light that builds.
I also want to note today– the light that builds. Although today in Washington, DC, where I live, the sky is cloudy and a mild 60 degrees, my own life is surrounded by light. I don’t always notice it. I often speed through my own life too fast, too worried to see it. But the light that builds– actually supports my life. Today I want to take note.
Much of the light that builds in my life comes from my spouse whose love is the ground that holds me up.
Much of the light comes from the memories of my parents’ lives– memories I keep close everyday.
Much of the light comes from my family– my sister, brother-in-law, nieces, whose joy supports me.
A rich part of the light comes from my many friends. Friends I’ve known since boyhood, friends from college at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, friends from seminary and graduate school at Notre Dame. These friends knew me when I had long, wild hair. These friends knew me when I wanted to be a musician.
A magnificent part of the light that builds my life comes from friends I made when I first moved to Washington, DC, now nearly 16 years ago. Friends who teach in Chicago, who make films here in Washington, DC, friends who are film students in Ithaca!
A beautiful part of the light comes from friends I know through poetry. The poetry community that surrounds me here in Washington, DC is rich and generous. There are poets all over the world whose light builds around me– from Bamako, Mali, to Denver, Colorado, to New Haven, Connecticut, and many other places.
A mysterious part of the light comes from friends I only know because they’ve read my books and poems. When they reach out to me the light has a distinctly beautiful texture.
A stimulating part of the light comes from my teaching colleagues– those here in Washington, DC, especially my current colleagues in Kohlmann Hall at Gonzaga. But also teaching colleagues from Carroll High School, American University, Irvine, California, Saint Mary’s College, and Notre Dame.
A joyful part of the light that builds in my life comes from my students. Their lively attentiveness, their earnest care for learning always pushes me. Their willingness to act out Hamlet in school cafeteria during lunch. Their willingness to open themselves in their own writing.
An especially joyful part of the light that builds in my life comes from former students– many whose lives are brilliant. Whether they study political science and play football at Iowa (Go Hawkeyes!) or study English and play baseball at Drew University (Go Drew!) or coach basketball at Penn State (Go Lions) or teach and serve at Notre Dame (Go Irish!) their lives regularly inspire me.
I also benefit from a light that builds which some people don’t think is light. Those friends and former students whose activism challenges my own life, my country, and the world — the light that is the Black Lives Matter movement, the light that is Doctors Without Borders, the light that is Split This Rock Poetry, the light that is the Human Rights Campaign. These friends regularly create and sustain the light that builds.
The light in my life also comes from people I will never know except through their art: the light that is the music of John Coltrane, whose creativity surrounds me nearly everyday. The light that is the words of the poets William Yeats and Langston Hughes. The light that is the words and life of Frederick Douglass. The light that is the words of Pablo Neruda. There is even light in watching amazing athletes play basketball these days! That’s light too.
There is more light today than yesterday. Not just because the world keeps turning in its romantic dance with the sun. The light that builds surrounds me. If I notice it and walk into it– I build with it.
May 2016 be a year we all remember the light that builds. May it be a year we more consciously name it, thank it, and walk into it.
Photo Credit: J. Ross, Rock Creek Park, Washington, D.C. December 2015