August 22nd, 2017

Last month while on vacation with my extended family, I celebrated a milestone birthday. In honor of the occasion, everyone gathered in the evening at the beach and enjoyed a wonderful meal served ocean-side, surrounded by flickering tiki torches. I was enchanted by how pretty the torches were against the backdrop of the water, and later, against the backdrop of the night sky with a beautiful moon rising. I took pictures of the torches, wanting to capture the memory and the striking beauty of the entire scene.

Fast-forward to today and the pictures all over the internet of angry people carrying tiki torches — the very same kind of torches used at my party, the same torches I found to be so beautiful. Last month they provided light for a wonderful celebration; a few days ago they were employed as visceral references to horrible injustices performed in this country’s past. The same torches. The same flames. Vastly different uses and implications.

As I looked at one widely-published picture of a group of young white men fiercely yelling in the glow of raised torches, I thought, there’s the light. The same light that was at my party. Provided by the same torches. Romantic, lovely lighting, revealing the underbelly of a racism still alive and well in the United States of America.

It is not the light’s fault. We can’t blame the torches. They didn’t consent to being used in that way. They are manufactured for parties and backyard cookouts, not modern displays of racial hatred. However, despite not being made for the purpose for which they were being wielded in that photograph, the torches did their job, and we can all be thankful for that. They provided light, and light did what light does, and now we have all seen and cannot unsee.

May we never again deny knowledge of what the light has clearly revealed.

* * *


Light is neutral.
Neither good nor bad.
Neither for us nor against us.
Light just is.

will always do what light does —
Make plain.

The only way
light will not do
what light does
is if we,
in its presence,
choose to close our eyes.

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