Friday, April 20, 2012

Candles in the Wind

     Last Monday evening, I was part of a ceremony to mark the beginning of Holocaust and Genocide Awareness Week here at the University of Denver.  The ceremony was simple:  a series of readings from survivors, or witnesses, of various genocidal rages:  the Holocaust, Rwanda, Cambodia, etc.  After each reading, a candle was lit.  The service began with these words:

We light candles in memory of the light of the millions of our brothers and sisters extinguished in the Holocaust, Rwanda, Darfur, Cambodia, Armenia, and too many others.  Each candle represents the light inside each person affected, and the light inside all of us requiring us to remember their stories.

As you can see from the photo above, not all of the candles remained lit.  It was windy, after all.  I was struck by the efforts we took to keep them burning--whether it was shielding them from the wind, re-lighting them from other candles, or striking yet another match.
     How hard it is to keep the light burning!
     I certainly know the experience of getting totally engaged in a project, a cause.  The flame burns hot.  I am, to use the cliché, "fired up".  Inevitably, however, time or other matters conspire to cool the intensity.  My attention wanders to the next new thing, or the most urgent emergency.
     One of the beneficial things, though, about annual remembrances is that we ARE reminded again and again of events in the past that have made us who we are.  And we may vow "Never again"* when it comes to genocides or other horrors.  Yet we turn on the news, or read the papers, and see that we have a long ways to go before we realize those goals.  Or some other world event--missile tests in North Korea or India, airplane crash in Pakistan, financial crisis in Europe--crowds out our focus.
      Phhfffphffhpfhfhf.  The winds blow, and the candle gutters.
     We learn, however, from these memorials of the steadfastness and bravery of many of those who struggled against the evils.  The winds certainly blew, but their candles were not extinguished.  Many of them were people little different than us, but they saw a hopeful, more just, future as the light to which they were drawn.  Some of them fought alone; others found strength in community.
      Those of us gathered on Monday evening found common cause, and common strength.  We did work together to keep those candles lit; we can corporately recall that evening as we struggle with the winds that would seek to vanquish the light.  And therein lay the larger "take-away" for me:  as I contend with the adversities I face, finding a community -- even if only a two-person community -- to shield and nurture the flame in the face of all the winds is critical.



*  "Never Again" is the name of the student group at DU that stands behind Holocaust and Genocide Awareness Week.

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