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Thursday, 26 October 2017

Light a Small Lantern

Reproduced by kind permission of the artist, Hassan Massoudy.
"Instead of railing against the darkness, it's better to light a small lantern."
Chinese Proverb. Hassan Massoudy on Instagram
My husband just got back from working for six months in the Yukon Territory of Canada, very far removed from U.S. politics, natural disasters, hate crimes, mass shootings, and the growing sense of powerlessness among people who wish for something different.

He'd been home only a few days when he pulled me away from the hearing of our children. "Where did all your possibility go?"

His question was a direct punch to the solar plexus, and I knew exactly what he meant. I just hadn't put it into words because it had crept up slowly and insidiously, like a thin, poisonous darkness slipping under the door.

Somehow, in the past nine months, my own sense of powerlessness in the face of all the negativity had become something smaller and more personal. Somehow, that powerlessness had grown a voice and a form, and it came out of my mouth as complaints.

This was truly awful news. I'm a person who firmly believes that a complaint without a request or a solution is just a lot of negative energy being put into the universe. I've never had patience for it, and I rarely indulged in it. In my previous life as a film producer there was no room for my complaints - it was my job to fix the things other people complained of, and to anticipate things so they never became complaints.

When I looked at the things about which I'd been complaining, I felt helpless to affect any sort of change - they were too big, and too far outside my reach. There were too many obstacles and people standing in the way for me to see a solution that I could impact in any way. It was an utterly helpless thing to feel, and for a time I felt like the only option was for me to just say nothing at all.

But shutting up isn't the answer either. We've seen what staying quiet in the face of injustice looks like, and not only is there no power in it, silence actually harms people, and ultimately, affects our own self-confidence in very negative ways.

Yesterday I spent four hours helping an author friend format her book. She had made the choice to re-acquire the rights to this book, re-write, re-edit, and publish it independently when she discovered she had breast cancer - when time and opportunity took on new definitions. It was hot in my house, she'd had another chemo treatment on Monday, and half our time was spent finding creative commons vectors to use in chapter headings and time spacers. She made choices about margins, line spacing, page counts, and fonts, and when she left, my friend had all the tools I could give her to format her own paperback for publication.

My husband asked me if I'd gotten any value from the long session away from my own writing. "Yes," I said. "I made a difference. I helped make something possible for someone else."

In those four hours, indeed for the whole day, the complaints that felt too big had faded into background noise. I might not be able to make a big difference, but I could make a small one, and somehow, it was enough.

To complain is a habit and a choice, and it's one in which I'm finished indulging. There's no power in complaints without solutions or requests, and I need whatever power I posses for all the small differences I can make to the people around me.

Today, on Instagram, I saw the beautiful Islamic calligraphy piece by Hassan Massoudy, and it spoke the words I can once again hear: "Instead of railing against the darkness, it's better to light a small lantern." Thank you, Mr. Massoudy, for the words, for your beautiful art, and for allowing me to illustrate my own sense of what's possible, for which I am again reaching with both hands.

We can all find small lanterns to light, and if enough of us light them, the world will shine.