I have been reflecting a lot this past week and a half on light and darkness.
Light is one of the primordial, archetypal elements of this universe. Scientifically, it is unique, strange even, the one part of our known cosmos that behaves as both particle and wave, not only illuminating our world but also reaching through untold distances to give us a sense of the immensity of the space in which we exist.
It is also the fruit of the first command of God in Genesis (“Let there be light”), the first manifestation of the Logos or Word of God in creation. John identifies this Logos, the second person of the Trinity, as this same light God spoke into existence in Genesis when he says, “In [the Word] was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it,” (John 1:4-5). Darkness stands as a negative reality, nothing in itself but an absence. Darkness doesn’t exist; it is simply a lack of light.
These first few weeks of school have been full of light and dark. The light of a new school year with all the sense of possibility it brings: the possibility of new friends and new experiences, new challenges and new achievements, new schedules and new opportunities to be a new kind of person.
The light of community and celebration, days full of red carpets and All-School Masses and assemblies and games to start off our year.
And then the darkness that swept quickly across our hearts as we learned of the loss of Izzy Ford, the absence of our sister bringing that cold ache that lingers when a light that had warmed us is gone.
I have thought about this quite a bit lately, not only following the loss of Izzy and the devastation felt by so many of our teens, but also following the passing of an SJA alum, Binyam “Benny” Gurmu, brother of senior Liya Gurmu and a former student of mine. The death of two young people, different in their age and stage of life, in their personalities and pursuits, yet united as members of our St. James family and in their love of others, invites us to reflect on these deeper things.
While Benny was a bit quieter with a subtle sense of humor and Izzy was outgoing with something of an edge to her on the lacrosse field, what has struck me about these two was their care for the other. So many today, both young and old alike, have their eyes on their screens or themselves, only on their concerns or their fears or their accomplishments. But Izzy and Benny both had eyes for the other. Last week was filled with stories of teachers telling me about notes Izzy had written them or students sharing how she had reached out to and connected with them. While I knew Izzy some, I came to understand more fully the fun-loving yet sincere and compassionate young woman we were blessed to have here.
And in my sadness at Benny’s passing, I couldn’t help but think of some of our conversations in the English classroom nine years ago, or the way he drove up from Houston to see his sister walk into prom and again to see her inducted into NHS last spring. There was an echo in these two lives of a common compassion and determination to be there for those who need it, and this echo made the news of their passing that much sadder to hear.
Our mortality is perhaps the starkest reality we all must grapple with. This life ends. When we truly reflect on that, it forces us to ask the next question: Is there anything else?
Our faith is founded on the bold belief that there is more. We believe in a God who brought light not just into the universe, but into the darkness of the reality of death. It is easy to get mad at God when tragedy strikes. We want His light to be bold and unrelenting, a lighthouse shining on the shores to guide each of our lives, especially those of our children, past the rocky shores and swirling whirlpools that threaten us along our way.
In many ways He is that, one firm light standing out no matter how dark the night gets, ever constant, ever watchful, pointing and guiding us to the destination we want to reach.
But this fallen world is full of danger. We are never truly safe until we navigate the waters and then walk the path from the shore to our home.
And so he has also made His light small. As Pope Francis says in Lumen Fidei, “Faith is not a light that dispels all our darkness but a lamp that guides our feet in the night and suffices for the journey.” God draws near to us and allows us to hold Him. He doesn’t cast out all the darkness in this world, but He lights the next step and the one after that, as long as we hold Him out front rather than stumbling blindly into the unknown.
There are no great answers, no words of wisdom that can dull the ache of loss or make light the weight of death. But we can follow the light of our God through prayer, and we can walk with each other along the path that lies ahead to bring comfort and peace when the way seems scary or the night gets cold. This is what Benny and Izzy modeled for us; it was precisely the intensity of the light of their love that makes their absence so hard to accept.
I am grateful to each of you for your prayers and partnership over these first several weeks. Please continue praying for the repose of the souls of Izzy Ford and Benny Gurmu as well as peace and comfort for their families. Please also continue to touch base with your children and communicate with us if you have any concerns or need anyone to talk with regarding how to navigate the path ahead. Our Lord of Light will lead us, but often He leads us to each other to walk together.