All my life, I’ve believed that no matter how dark this world gets, there’s light behind that darkness, light that always shines through in the end.
This belief has been fundamental to my writing, to the sometimes-dark stories I tell and to all the stories I tell. Terrible things happen. But light—something within humanity that generates light—finds ways to fight that darkness.
This belief has been fundamental to my life, too, helping me see my way through the challenges of childhood—bullying by my peers, growing up in a home with a share of love but also a share of chaos and yelling and strife.
Things might look dark, but no darkness is absolute. Light finds a way through, one way or another. For so many years, I believed that. I was never sure where my belief came from: The stories I raised myself on? God? Some mix of these things or some other thing entirely? Whatever the source, I’d always been grateful for this conviction, always known it for the gift it was.
Until the pandemic—and the years leading up to the pandemic, too—challenged all that.
Not because of the virus itself. Because of the many people—not just outwardly problematic people, not just actively hateful people, but more people than not out of all people—who’ve decided that in the face of the virus, they’re just not up for caring about each other anymore. At least not when it comes to slowing the spread of a contagious disease that even now kills thousands of people a day and disables a great many more.
Not if they have to do it for more than a handful of months. Not if they have to be inconvenienced or change habits or rethink how they live and socialize over the long term.
Not if they have to make real sacrifices.
Some people are out and out vicious about their lack of care for one another, bursting into hateful screaming and abuse and occasionally even violence when asked to do something as simple as put on a mask. A great many more people are merely indifferent, though, and in many ways I think this is worse. These are the people who shrug and say if mitigation measures like masking and testing and contact tracing are no longer required, they just won’t go to the trouble. The people who go with the flow and wear masks and get vaccinated and avoid indoor dining when other people are doing it, but when other people stop, they stop too. The people who say they care, but also that they miss concerts and conferences and indoor sporting events too much to do without them.
The people who instinctively reach for the “normal” they know and miss, and don’t think twice about the cost.
And then there’s the most indifferent, most immoral, and most common reason for pursuing that normalcy of all:
I’ve evaluated my personal risk and decided it’s low.
My risk. Not the risk posed to others, even though during a pandemic no risk is truly “personal.” Our actions affect other people; that’s how contagious diseases work. We’re all more vulnerable than we think, but beyond that, the infection that’s mild for one person becomes part of a chain of transmission that could kill a vulnerable stranger they’ll never meet.
Yet more and more people are saying, with disconcerting directness, not just, “I’m taking care of myself (a good and necessary thing),” but “I’m only taking care of myself.” Everyone else is on their own.
Everyone is on their own. That’s the part of the pandemic that has broken me. We’re denying our connection to one another, denying it so deeply that we’d rather see strangers die than admit the world has changed without warning and might never change fully back.
Everyone is on their own. Where did all that light I saw shining through the darkness even come from, if it wasn’t from people finding ways to connect with one another, to care about one another, to in some small way redeem one another, even in dark times?
These are dark times, not because of the virus, but because of what we as humans have let the virus turn us into. (And because of other things too. If I’m honest I have to admit all of this began long before Covid, and that I bear a fair amount of privilege and responsibility for the fact that I’ve been able to avoid fully feeling and facing it until the past few years.)
But how do we come back from this? How do I come back from this?
How do I find my way back to believing in a world where light can be hidden, sometimes for a long time, but is still always out there, waiting to be found, waiting to shine through once more?
How do I find my way back when all around me are people so scared of the dark that instead of trying to light one another’s way they’ve turning their own small lights off entirely, because their personal risk is low and they no longer know how to think beyond that?
The fact that I want to believe such a world still exists is a start, I suppose.
Now I just have to figure out whether I really do still believe in it—and where to go from there.
I was ready to end this essay here. Yet even as I wrote the lines above, something inside me spoke up and said:
Start by focusing on your light—the light you yourself have to offer, the light you’ve defiantly refused to let gutter out, even now. Focus on that light and what you can still do with it, rather than on the light others have forgotten they even possess.
That sounds hard, honestly. It sounds lonely.
But light sparks light, after all. Somewhere deep down I still know that. And shining our own light can make us more aware of all those other defiant lights out there sparking, too.
Maybe, just maybe, that can be a start, too.