Many years ago, I knew a woman who believed in lighting a candle whenever she knew of a life that had ended. Even if it was someone she didn’t know, she felt strongly about the symbolism of lighting the way for someone who had left this world and was journeying into the next realm. When she passed away, I lit a candle for her. She also used to say, “You can never be sad when you look into a candle flame.”

I thought about her sometimes when I was reading story after story about 9/11, doing research for my new novel The Wrong Side of Night, in which 9/11 is the back story. I would think about how the loss of life was so huge, almost unfathomable, one person couldn’t amass enough candles. I’ve had similar thoughts with every mass shooting — there just aren’t enough candles for the slaughters that have now become a regular part of our lives. How saddened my friend would be if she were here to witness this.

Now 50 people are dead, dozens more injured, in a country that’s always been regarded as a safe place to be. I have friends who have talked about moving to New Zealand if Donald Trump stays in office and continues to destroy our democracy. We learned the other day that there are no safe places anymore. Hatred can cross any boundary; no place is immune to violence.

What are we to do with our grief when the man in the White House continues to use hateful rhetoric? When he dismisses the rise of white nationalism as not a legitimate concern — “only a small group of people,” he said.  What are we to do with our horror as white supremacist groups praise Donald Trump and rejoice that he appears to be on their side? When this president’s statement about “very fine people on both sides” after Charlottesville trails us like a bad dream? No amount of candles can dispel the darkness that all of this has created.

Maybe the candles we need to light are inside us. Or maybe they never went out — they’re just hard to find when darkness seems to be everywhere. Those of us who want this country, and this world, to be an integrated, peaceful place still outnumber those whose mission it is to destroy and kill. But we have to remember that about ourselves and have as much passion for the flames that still burn in us as the people fueled by hatred have for their rage. It’s a tall order when places of worship are turned into slaughterhouses. How does hatred not rise up in the wake of such horror? But our future depends on the choice we make.

Martin Luther King said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”


  1. Rodney says:

    I love what your friend said: “You can never be sad when you look into a candle flame.”

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