Songs of Defiance

photoI leaned my head against the airplane wall. It’d only been a week since my mom called me to tell me that my uncle passed away, and now I was on a plane back to Nashville after his funeral. The loss was just beginning to sink in and I fought off tears. When they insisted on coming, I turned toward the window so no one would see me cry. Dew drops chased each other down the glass and the rosy fingers of dawn reached their way across the sky. The weekend had been dreary. As I watched the sun rise over the Detroit airport, I wondered if maybe there was hope on the other side after all. Our loss as a family wasn’t the only thing casting a shadow, though.

That weekend, some health problems I'd dealt with previously flared up. The best I’d been able to do was manage the pain, and I was tired of feeling so tired. I was still adjusting to a new school year and all the details were overwhelming. On top of all that, it seemed like all I had to do was scroll through twitter and read a few headlines to feel like the whole world was coming apart at the seams.

An hour later, we were descending into Nashville. The clouds hung thick. As I watched out the window, I felt lost. The world had disappeared into grey oblivion and I wondered if we were really moving at all. Then the layers of clouds peeled apart and a sliver of sunrise broke through.

It reminded me of a scene from The Return of the King. Sam and Frodo had almost completed their quest and as Frodo slept, Sam kept watch. He looked across the sky and, for the first time in a long time, he saw a light beyond the shadow

…Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach. His song in the Tower had been defiance, rather than hope; for then he was thinking of himself… [J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King]

I thought about Sam’s song. It may have been defiance, but it was the song that found Frodo. Without it, the story would have ended there. Sometimes, that's how we make our way through the shadow and to the hope. We can't see the end of the shadow, but we shake our fists at the darkness all the same.

Later that morning, my friends and I were in church. The service ended with a hymn. I tried to sing, but the words just wouldn’t come.

It is well, it is well with my soul

I was worn thin. I didn’t have much energy left for hope, but finally, somewhere in the second verse, I found my voice. I'm not sure how much I really believed it. Still, in defiance, I sang. As we left, I thought about the verse we didn’t sing that morning.

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight, The clouds be rolled back as a scroll; The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend, Even so, it is well with my soul.

Even so.

One day, we’ll see the end of this shadow and the hope beyond it. Until then, I’ll raise my voice and sing a song of defiance. I'll keep looking for the slivers of light beyond the shadow.

In truth, this month has been equal parts difficult and beautiful, and I am grateful for both.

Some days feel heavy, but the shadow is not the end of the story.

Yes, we have lost much, but the darkness will not win.

...in the end, the shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.