Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
– Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love, 1963
One year ago, the unthinkable happened. A pain that has taken me months of contemplation just to pull words and phrases together.
On a cold January morning, I arrived home after dropping the kids off at school. As I had just started tackling the typical errands of my day, the phone rang. Bryson’s voice was on the other end of the line, speaking words that my brain couldn’t wrap itself around.
“The school just called. One of Reilly’s classmates was killed last night.”
It was just a little over a year after the shock of Sandy Hook. A year after we all wept hard for children gone too soon. Children that were my Reilly’s age. Now, tears fell for a new heartache hitting far too close to home.
My soul felt crushed. It hurt to breathe.
Although I did not know the Borens personally, their faces were familiar to me. I remembered running into Kelly Boren months before, at Meet the Teacher day. I was fumbling through Reilly’s new classroom, wrangling five little kids to the best of my ability. I was tired and frazzled, and this condition only escalated after Dani proceeded to get sick all over the classroom floor. Kelly, on the other hand, looked as though she had just walked straight out of a magazine ad. Her darling daughter, Haley, was just the same. With an easy smile and not a hair out of place, I couldn’t help but be slightly envious.
I vaguely remembered running into Josh Boren at the school on a previous occasion, still in his officer’s uniform. I recalled feeling secure and grateful to see a police officer in the classroom– as I’m sure many parents did– in the aftermath of the Newtown tragedy.
But mostly, I remembered Jaden.
It had been a challenging year at school for Reilly. Difficulties with friends and increasing social anxiety had taken their toll on my sweet girl. As some of her girlfriends had distanced themselves, she found acceptance with the boys in her class. Jaden was one of them.
Sitting on our sofa later that evening, Bryson and I talked through the tragedy with Reilly. In this safe space, she expressed feelings of grief and loss– her faith and happiness that Jaden was finally safe in Jesus’ loving arms, but also her devastation in losing one of her classmates. It was through these words and raw emotions that I came realize just what kind of friend he truly was. With sad eyes Reilly looked up at us and explained:
Jaden was nice to me when no one else was.
Deeds of kindness bring light to darkened days. A life of kindness matters. And those acts of kindness– whether you are seven or thirty-seven– send ripples of love and illumination directly to the lives of others.
I did not know the Boren family very well. But I will forever be thankful to that sweet blond haired boy who smiled at me as I picked Reilly up from school. His life mattered. It still matters. His kindness has left fingerprints on the hearts of our family, and I’m sure countless others who knew him.
So when I look around at my life and think that I am not doing enough, being enough, or making enough of a difference in the world, I think of Jaden.
Every day each of us chooses whether we bring an increase of light or darkness into this world. We choose to act or react. To build up or tear down. We choose motivations based on love or fear. We decide, and these decisions are ours alone.
Today, what will your choice be?
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – These are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit.
– C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, 1941
No matter how bleak things get, one bright light can shatter the darkness. Every single time. One solitary light can illuminate even the darkest of corners. Naïve and idealistic as it sounds, love and compassion can change the world. It can change lives. I have seen it happen. Kindness matters. Your life matters.
This little light of mine? I’m going to let it shine. Join me, won’t you?