The dark time is here. Every year I marvel at the way tiny twinkly Christmas lights make a big difference in the darkness. The decorated houses feel like a extraordinarily generous gestures, pooling together at create an illuminated village, transforming this suburban New York place. Even the giant inflatable “lawn art” seems jolly and American and well-intentioned (Although I know those giant snowmen and cartoon characters can be oppressive after a few weeks…or months).
I was told the warmth from a single candle is enough to keep you alive. The same is true for light. In true darkness, the tiniest light is visible for miles. A great man died this week and I have been marveling at his greatness—his capacity to maintain a connection to a greater truth in the most oppressive circumstances, to open his heart and forgive. What sparked that flame?
In my experience, for even the smallest act of forgiveness to take place we need have to have an inkling that something greater is possible, a peace and freedom that waits for us beyond the boundaries of our own sometimes righteous anger, our own pain, our own understandable desire to push back. Real forgiveness means letting go.
As Mandela’s life demonstrates, this takes confidence–a word that literally means with faith. We have to have faith in our ability to be aligned with a power greater than ourselves, even if we are in prison. We have to confidence that there is more to reality than we think and that we can connect with it wherever we are. To actually practice forgiveness, as opposed to just think about, may turn out to be a small, careful, demanding daily work, not a grand gesture of heart or mind. Yet think of how visible a tiny light is in the darkness–that’s how palpably different an act of letting go is from our usual way of holding on to the story of who we are.
In the words of Mandela’s fellow great being Gandhi:
Your beliefs become thoughts
Your thoughts become your words
Your words become your habits
Your habits become your values
Your values become your destiny