Hold Up Your Light

We need to show our leaders the path forward out of these dark times.

It is the evening of Diwali, the Indian festival of lights, as I write this. I’ve just come in from the yard after lighting a few clay oil lamps — symbols of the eventual victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance that this festival represents.

diwali lamp-
Diwali clay lamp. Photo by Maureen Nandini Mitra.

It’s cold out there. We have had a smattering of rain over the past week in the California Bay Area and temperatures have plummeted. Up in the Sierra, there have been a few dustings of snow as well. All signs indicate that we may be past the peak of what has been the worst wildfire season ever in Western United States.

But the onset of winter is a mixed blessing. As the holiday season approaches, we are entering what public health officials fear could be grimmest months of this pandemic. Already, case numbers are spiking across most of the country — we are currently losing an average of over 1,000 American lives and reporting more than 160,000 new Covid-19 cases per day. Hospitals are again filling beyond capacity and, again, shutdowns appear to be in the offing. Prospects seem bleak for the gatherings, the extended family time, and the festivities that the year-end normally brings.

This has been a truly difficult year on so many levels, personal, political, and ecological. So many of us have been visited by loss — of loved ones, of jobs, of the roof over our heads, and even of the basic freedom of stepping out of our homes without fear. So many of us are struggling to fully comprehend the extent to which the shade of our skin determines how we thrive or die in this country. And at the end of an incredibly fractious, surreal election season — where more than 73 million Americans endorsed the reluctantly outgoing president’s authoritarianism, cronyism, racism, and outright lying — so many of us are bitterly divided in our understanding of what this nation stands for. All the while, in the background, the great unraveling of our natural world continues to speed up.

As I stood outside in the cold this evening, I felt the collective grief that we are all experiencing wash over me. Head bowed, I accepted it.

Perhaps we all need to take a moment, or more, to acknowledge this lost year. But we cannot allow that acknowledgement to turn into despair. We must take whatever sorrow or anger we might be feeling and shape it into action. Into what artist Obi Kaufmann (1000 Words) calls “an active rethinking of how we relate to and value the natural world.”

The upcoming Biden-Harris administration offers hope for action based on that kind of active rethinking, action in the best interest of people and our planet. Our job now is to keep the pressure on, to hold up our lights and show our leaders the path forward out of these dark times.


We are saddened to be parting ways with Anna Lappé, our “Digging Deeper” columnist. After five years of writing about modern agriculture, climate change, and global food systems for the Journal, Lappé is moving on to other ventures. We wish her the very best. We will be welcoming a new columnist in the coming year.

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