It was just another night of plugging away at schoolwork, and I was half-listening to Nightwish’s album Imaginaerum, loaned to me by a thoughtful student. “Last Ride of the Day,” appropriately one of the last songs, was pounding away as I worked. In the midst of the triumphant refrain, these lines caught my ear:
“It’s hard to light a candle, easy to curse the dark instead…”
I paused and looked up the lyrics to make sure I’d heard right. The song goes on to wholeheartedly support seizing the beauty and joy of the moment despite the dark.
That simple line of poetry, and its sense in the context of the song, has remained with me all week. It could be the title of this chapter in my life.
Five or six years ago, I didn’t feel an affinity with lyrics from Nightwish or Evanescence. I didn’t write stories where characters were broken at the end and stayed broken. I wouldn’t have fallen in love with the Hunger Games trilogy. And I absolutely never, ever wore black. Ever.
But that was before I supported one of my very best friends through months of brokenness and rejection at the hands of nearly everyone around her, starting with her fiancée. That was before another best friend was pushed to physical and mental limits by her job. That was before my grandmother and another dear friend died. That was before I made a new friend who suffers from depression and a schizophrenic mother. This was before I knew the meaning of the financial worry of living on one’s own on a miniscule paycheck—and trying to finish graduate school. It was before I had students of my own, with their deep hurts and sorrows and loves and losses. It was back when school shootings were just something abstract, before my imagination took me into every home of every parent and child affected.
“It’s hard to light a candle, easy to curse the dark instead.”
But that was also before I understood my personal mission in life. My mission involves candle-lighting. And if one’s really going to light candles with any sense of urgency, one has to see the dark.
Perhaps I should clarify “personal mission.” I believe with all my heart that the Bible teaches that we were each created with our own personalities and gifts (which are enlarged and enhanced by our unique experiences) in order to fulfill a specific God-given role, in His “church” (if you’re using the language of 1 Corinthians 12), or His Great Story (if you’re using my favorite metaphor). And in this story, every character counts. There are no secondary characters. My “personal mission” is my role as a character in the story. And it’s not something I’m being dragged into, kicking and screaming. It’s something I was made for. “That,” as Gandalf says, “is an encouraging thought.”
Like I said, I understand and have accepted my mission. It is, quite simply, to love people. To love a few specific people—who God always deliberately brings across my path—with enough intensity and for a long enough time that they are helped, and enabled to better achieve their own missions.
These people tend to share one characteristic: they have been hurt.
If I still lived in my little “happy bubble” I grew up in, if life was still about nothing deeper than fall leaves and family Christmases, I would be stunted. I would completely miss these people or at least avoid them. I would be more than a little afraid of them. I would be mistaking sadness for evil. I would be “cursing the dark.”
But instead, I shed a few tears—then smile, pick up my candle, and feel around for the matches.