Growing up in a country not their own, attending school with children from all over the world, my children have the luxury of daily exposure to difference. Multiculturalism is more than just a box ticked on a syllabus, more than a buzzword. It’s not something to be merely tolerated, but celebrated.
I’m ashamed to admit it’s not always something I pay attention to myself, especially when the celebrations are far removed from my own experience. So when my second-grader came home earlier this week full to the brim with information about the Hindu festival of Diwali, I nodded and clucked absently.
“It’s a celebration of good over evil,” he said to me as we were walking home from school.
“You must have really been paying attention,” I said.
But I wasn’t paying attention. Not really.
I didn’t give our conversation much thought until last night, when gunman in Paris tore open a hole into the evil. When it momentarily seemed as if evil had won.
I am not an expert in Hindu celebrations, my knowledge comes from research gleaned at the tips of my fingers, but at its most basic, Diwali is a festival of lights: a celebration of light over darkness, of knowledge over ignorance, of good over evil.
There are times like last night when that celebration seems premature. This morning, as I read the news coming out of France it seemed certain that the darkness was encroaching, consuming. That evil was winning.
And yet as long as there has been darkness, there has been light. As long as there has been evil, there has been good.
Mankind, or manunkind as my favorite poet penned, has a capacity for darkness that boggles the mind to contemplate. A bleak and black core that eclipses any light around it.
And yet this capacity for darkness is not new, it’s not different. It is the same angry song sung to a different tune. There has always been evil in the hearts of man-unkind. Yet so far good has triumphed in the end. It is the core of mythology, of legend, of poetry and song, of history.
We see it on a smaller scale daily. We read about it in newspapers. And times, like last night, we watch it unfold live across a television screen, across a Twitter feed.
And yet somehow there is always light. A pinprick, a lamppost, a guiding light. We saw it last night as the citizens of Paris opened their homes to those stranded and scared. Sometimes that light is a beacon to others: a star hanging over the city Bethlehem, oil to burn a lamp for an eighth night, the light of a thousand candles lighting up the darkness of a new moon.
Make no mistake. Evil is there, within a heart of darkness or hiding behind the pretense of a God. But darkness is not religious, not the work of anyone’s God. Darkness is the enjoyment of chaos, of terror, of killing. It is blood lust that feeds only on itself.
The methods change, the religion, the costume. Swords, concentration camps, bombs, guns.
And yet, somehow there is light.
On nights like last night, it’s easy to feel consumed by the darkness, by the unkind in man. It is easy to look at the horror and terror, at the atrocities we seem to be capable of inflicting upon one another in the name of something altogether unholy and think there is no way of stopping it.
Perhaps we won’t stop it–not completely. But as long as there is more light than dark, more knowledge than ignorance, more good than evil, there is still reason to celebrate. To light a star on top of a tree or a menorah or a candle lighting up the night of the new moon.
My heart bleeds for Paris, but it bleeds as well for victims of darkness we don’t read about, or write about, or publicly stand with. My heart bleeds for those without a beacon right now. Those is Syria, in Nigeria, in places where the news cycles have become so inundated we’ve become immune, or worse, apathetic.
As my children are encouraged to become more familiar with the unfamiliar, as they are encouraged to learn about the traditions and celebrations, the lifestyles of others, not merely to tolerate but to celebrate those differences, I wonder.
Maybe this is the way good will win. Maybe it is the way light will triumph.