by Barbara Anne Radtke
Darkness descended early this year. Even before the change from daylight saving time, it seemed necessary to have lights on in the house earlier each day. This premature onset of the dreariness that annually affects New England was widely noted by the local news anchor and the meteorologist. It was as though Mother Nature was trying to match the gloom of the world’s troubles.
Local traditions helped curb the darkness. Orange lights and illuminated blow-up Halloween figures joined the pumpkins in cheering up the neighborhoods. In my community, Dewali, a holiday that makes homes welcoming by lighting candles followed. After several dark years during and after the pandemic, Christmas lights appeared early and in abundance. We now await the lighting of the menorah for Hanukkah.
Thinking of the annual loss of light reminds me of other light we need in our lives. As kids, many of my siblings did our homework at the dining room table. My dad, always worried about our eyesight, used to say to us as he turned on the overhead light, “Let’s put a little light on the subject.” In junior high, the play on words struck me. Our studies were shedding light on many subjects as the dining room fixture gave us light in the twilight of the late afternoon. It seemed that both these lights were ample for our needs. Now, it seems more complicated. I have a friend who thinks about her own need of this other light, necessary for understanding and action. She prays, “Give me enough light to see my next step.” It could easily be a more global prayer of and for humanity, “Give us enough light to find our next step.”
My father’s mom, our Grandma Radtke, spoke English very well as a second language, but she had Germanic phrases. She never asked us to turn on a light. Instead she would say, with the commanding authority of the divinity of the household, “Make light.” It strikes me today that, although it was a simple request to turn on the light, it carried a moral imperative. In a world riddled with hunger, poverty, political unrest, and war, I need to be a light, however so small, as a member of a family, as a citizen, as a member of a world-wide church, as a human, as an elder from whom some look for advice. It’s a tough assignment. The wisdom, even of age, seems to falter. Yet, I need – indeed, we all need -- to keep trying. In this season, which speaks of hope, the reports about climate change, war, and migration make the times seem hopeless. Even so, we all need, as Grandma often reminded us Radtke kids, “to make light.”
Response by Kathy Hendricks
Each of your stories of light are so touching, Barbara. I especially love the one about your grandmother as it serves as a strong reminder to “make light.” Once we set our minds to it, we find many ways to not only do this but also to bask in the light of others. This past weekend, I went with my daughter and granddaughter for a “girls’ weekend” in downtown Denver. We enjoyed a traditional tea at the historic Brown Palace hotel and met my four nieces and grandniece for brunch the next day. At the tea, my five-year-old granddaughter danced by herself to the music of a jazz quartet. Watching her sweet innocence made light for the heart and soul. The following day’s laughter and conversation around a delicious meal with family was another light-making experience.
All of this took place against a more somber backdrop in the city. A pro-Palestinian demonstration clogged the streets with marchers and called for a strong police presence as a Global Convention for Israel took place at the Colorado Convention Center. My granddaughter wanted to ride the free shuttle around town and, at such an early hour on a Sunday, our fellow passengers were homeless men trying to stay warm. Despite these sobering reminders of war and poverty, there was a glimmer of hope as one of the men on the shuttle serenaded us with a song. Despite his disheveled appearance, his voice rose with a sense of joy and generosity, providing a bit of light-making for us all.
Dear readers, what light-making have you engaged in or derived from others? Do share!