There seem to be a lot of vigils in the news lately. There have been the vigils across the country (some right here in South Dakota) for the victims of Sandy Hook. There was a vigil in Sioux Falls recently to commemorate the three child victims of a house fire there. A group of Lakota gathered by candlelight in Rapid City last week to raise awareness of the suicide epidemic that plagues South Dakota’s reservation communities. Residents of Pierre have been left reeling by the death of a 16-year-old boy at the hands of one of his classmates.
This season has traditionally been a time to celebrate the return of the light, hope rising from the deepest darkness of the year. This is as true for the early pagan cultures who gave us the Christmas tree as it is for the Christians who gave us Advent.
It’s hard to find hope in the midst of tragedy, as so many vigillers and so many families have come to know with overwhelming clarity in the past few weeks.
But—and I freely admit that I am entering the realm of speculation—I believe that it is the absence of hope that brought us to this point in the first place. A lack of hope in the prospects for cultural and individual survival that drives so many young Lakota to take their own lives. A lack of hope in a meaningful life that is the only reason (beyond clear mental illness issues) I can conceive of that might drive someone to slaughter 20 elementary school children. A lack of hope and faith in the world, a gnawing fear of our fellow human beings that drives us to hate and violence and away from the one place we truly belong: with one another.
And so I wish you hope this holiday season. For as Christmas lights twinkle out of the shadow of twilight streets, as candles stand out as pinpricks of light in the long night of mourning, we must keep the light of hope shining in our hearts, our families, our communities. Regardless of religious belief, we must have faith that the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it. It is our only hope.
Merry Christmas. Happy Holidays. Peace be with you all.
–Tom Emanuel is the executive director of the SD Peace & Justice Center