by Alethea Eason
The earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; And God saw the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. Genesis 1:1-2
I am writing at two in the morning, awake because of a chronic darkness which found a purchase in my cells so long ago it’s beyond memory; I am unable to sleep because as hard as I’ve tried, it has been difficult to hold onto light. At this time when doors have been open to intolerance and our planet’s fate fragile and uncertain, anxiety, which has always been part of my DNA, has heightened. I tell myself my country will weather the tide of racism and increased xenophobia, and that the constitution and checks and balances will counteract fearmongering and social media lies, that as a woman I will be safe, that my students will grow up in a kind country, a tolerant one, that will allow their dreams to unfold. These thoughts comfort me for a while until I check the headlines.
My students are scared. There were media reports of children coming to school the day after the election crying because they were afraid that their families would be deported. I can tell you this is true because on the morning of November 9th, I taught many worried, upset students. I heard a third-grade boy say, “I have a passport. I will not leave. If they tell me to, I will not go.”
A little more than a year ago, this boy, along with a quarter of the students in the school district where I teach, lost his home to the Valley Fire. I live in Cobb, California. My home did not burn, but my husband and I, our cat crying in her carrier, and a six-month-old Australian Shepherd puppy were a part of an exodos of 19,000 people who fled the inferno that swept over southern Lake County. As we packed the last things we could shove into our vehicles, bombers rumbled over our heads in the midst of clouds of rust red smoke, propane tanks popped like bombs, and flames lit the top of Boggs Mountain across the canyon. Six years of drought and the ravages of bark beetles created a tinderbox in the forest. Deforestation before our eyes.
Disaster. Trauma. Homelessness.
In the comfort of our friends’ living room in Santa Rosa, I watched walls constructed in Hungary to keep out Syrian refugees and saw faces etched with hatred, faces marked by desperation.
This is the first election where first graders are traumatized, where second grade girls come home frightened because their friends have told them it is not safe to be a girl in America, and where the climate conditions that have decimated my home are denied.
I am Episcopalian because I believe in my church’s commitment to social justice based on Jesus’ inclusivity and love. The formless void inside of me waits for God’s breath. I wrote out the passage from Genesis tonight because for some reason it called to me. And then I read it, and read it again, and two images spoke to me. First, from the very beginning, in the void, in the first words of the Bible, water exists. Secondly, the light is already there, or how else could it be separated from the dark?
My house was surrounded by flames, trees and sheds burned, and a semi-circle of homes around us were reduced to ash. This summer we cleaned up the debris and pulled weeds, uncover the layer of ash just beneath the leaf cover from the oak trees that did not die. I throw a ball for my dog, a big boy now, down the driveway and it hits on the charred bark of the trees that remain, shadows of the flames etched into the wood. My husband found metal plates, the only thing that were left in a shed on which flames had painted their pattern on their surfaces. I drive past the silent graves of friends’ homes that are now surrounded by sandbags, past a thousand dead trees, the toxic ruins of an old resort, every day to and from work.
Here and there, houses are being built again, but twenty percent of the people who used to live on my mountain are gone. My husband says that people will come for what Cobb will become, not for what it was. There are still islands of trees that the fire left untouched, and the oaks and dogwoods are in their fall glory. We are in the second winter in which rain has returned. I drive through a black and white world, rain clouds and sullied remnants of pine, into cascades of scarlet and gold raining down from the island’s trees, then back out again into a monochrome world.
Jesus was conceived, as each of us was, in the dark of his mother’s body. He was born in a cave, and the pictures we have of this event are always set at night. His birth is celebrated in the bleakest part of the year which the northern hemisphere is now speeding toward. The sun stays at its lowest point on the horizon for three days, and on December 25th starts its slow ascent to the summer solstice. Epiphany will come, and without the tomb of Good Friday, grace would not shine as brightly.
There are tales of light, of love from other communities pouring into us. Churches throughout the Episcopal Diocese of Northern California in conjunction with Episcopal Relief and Development were very generous, along with churches across the Bay Area and the nation. There are tales of bravery in the days of flames. Parents and staffs came together to help students return to their home schools, making sure that the children’s emotional and educational needs were met as much as possible.
I will always remember the gut tightening as we drove home to find what was left and what was not, the burned cars along the side of the road, and then two months later after the first significant rain in over half a decade, the miracle of grass growing over the ash covered fields.
People of all faiths, people without faith but within whom light shines in their hearts, are descending into the shadows of days before us. I am writing at the darkest part of the morning, yet I know above the rain clouds there are planets and moons and starlight, a whole universe evolving, as we will evolve in our own time. The fear that has gripped me has alleviated a little for I know that stretched out across this nation, and this world, there are more of us who hold the candles of hope than not.
What can I do? Choose to find the light burning inside myself, have it light my way to other souls who choose love, to know that creation holds oceans of becoming, of potential, and that even in its silent sea that might seem empty, light will continue to be pulled if we do not extinguish it within ourselves.