“Ring the bells that still can ring,
Forget your perfect offering,
There is a crack in everything,
That’s how the light gets in.”
Anthem by Leonard Cohen
When I was recovering from my mastectomy in 2012 there was a night when the pain was so intense I didn’t think I’d make it through to dawn. I sat upright, propped up on my pillows trying to breathe, but my lungs would not fill with air. I thought to myself, this is the end. Then suddenly, I became aware of an orange, glowing light. I realized it was my salt crystal lamp illuminating the room. The light had not changed in intensity or brightness, but somehow my clarity had sharpened. In that moment of clear vision, I knew I would live even though my body felt as if it was breaking down and separating from my spirit.
I had read in Elizabeth Edwards’ memoir, Resilience, that when she was reckoning with her husband, John’s affair; her oldest son’s death; and her terminal cancer; she would remember Leonard Cohen’s lyrics from Anthem. The verse above was one that would come back to her repeatedly. These words became my anthem, too. I heard them from a distance getting closer to me as I weaved in and out of consciousness and clarity, the Percocet strumming on my neurotransmitters and brainwaves.
Cohen’s words carried me through, just as they had done for Elizabeth during her most trying times. I was, like Elizabeth, raw. Blood and bone. An imperfect offering for any god that would have me. But I was alive. My heart was still beating. With all my scars, tubes, and fluids, I knew that God’s light was close and that I, in all my bandages and imperfections, was loved.
These lyrics reminded me of my humanity and grace. Like Elizabeth, they ignited a thirst within to live, to love, and to overcome all the shit, fear, and darkness that threatened to extinguish my light.
Yesterday, 2017, five years later, Cohen’s lyrics came back to me but in a completely different context.
Yesterday, I bore witness to many young men and women – Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) students – speak of their love for our country. I listened intently to their personal narratives as they spoke, one at a time, in front of the large crowd standing on the State Capitol steps. I was moved by their immense gratitude for the United States in spite of the shit, fear, and darkness that threatened their safety and security.
Their stories highlighted the good within our country even though many of them and their family members had faced and continued confronting discrimination, hatred, and unfair treatment. They spoke of hope and of light. They described their dreams of being citizens and of working hard to build strong relationships between people, across borders, and among countries. They were young and held hands as they spoke. Their tightly grasped hands like chain links as they stood their ground and claimed the only place they knew as home. They protected each other, and we, in solidarity, formed a large circle around them to reinforce and strengthen their resolve.
The bells rung for us and we, responding to the light coming in, understood that our common humanity was what mattered the most.
Yesterday was a sad day for me as I listened to the testimonies of so many young men and women who face real fear and danger in their fight to stay in the United States and become citizens. I couldn’t understand, but could only imagine the betrayal many of them must have felt by those they thought loved and cared for them – neighbors, teachers, and even old friends. People who they thought they could trust were no longer their allies. This “reality” experienced first-hand reinforced ad nauseam by the mass media.
Yet, in the midst of this sadness church bells began to ring in the distance… God was reminding us to hold tight and take heart. The Light was coming in.
This is not the end for our DACA students. It is not the end of hope, either.
It is a moment to choose who we are and what we stand for.
How will we respond?