At the beginning of her book, “The Year of Magical Thinking,” Joan Didion, in her reflections on the death of her husband, notes that “life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant.” It’s been over ten months since Georgetown University announced the beginning of virtual instruction through a simple email, a profoundly ordinary instant. With every month that passes in this exile of sorts, this limbo in the wake of the ordinary instant, I grieve a little more.
I struggle to not feel crushed at times by the magnitude of the moment, as thousands die daily from the COVID-19 pandemic, as we begin yet another semester of virtual instruction, as so much that we had yearned for becomes what could have been, and as we as a Georgetown community grow more distant from one another. As of this semester, sophomores like myself have done more online school than in-person school. It is painful to watch my memories of Georgetown fade with each passing day. A tinge of sadness accompanies every livestream Mass from Dahlgren Chapel I watch, as I long to return to the place that quickly became my spiritual home.
What keeps me hopeful and what has given me consolation is the everlasting presence of light in this world, the continued existence of the sublime love that propels that light forward. And what has kept me from being overcome by the darkness is my constant endeavor to search for light every single day.
The year 2020, and what we have experienced thus far of 2021, has been mercilessly dark. But light, both actual and metaphorical, has remained in the face of this darkness. Light has shimmered in the voices of my friends as we catch up over the phone. Light has shined as I cook and bake with my family. Light has glimmered on my walks, in my prayers and in the small graces that have filled my life over the last few months.
As a Catholic, light is inextricably intertwined with the expression and daily practice of my faith, associated with the conscious experience of daily grace. After all, one of the first things God created in the Book of Genesis was light, separating it from the darkness that predated creation. Jesus described himself as the source of light, telling his disciples,“I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12. And, as St. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Ephesians, “For once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.” Ephesians 5:8. The Christian calling is one explicitly connected to light.
I often find myself reciting a simple line from the opening of the Gospel of John: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5. This verse has comforted me most during the pandemic: a quiet mantra I say to myself when I hit a low point, a regular affirmation of God’s immense power and the glory that is still yet to come.
The light exists in each of our lives, calling on us to recognize it and acknowledge its presence in our lives. Whether we identify as Christians or not, light’s consolatory power and therapeutic grace lies in reach for each of us. To find this light, especially amid this pandemic, we must take stock of the ordinary in addition to the extraordinary, mindfully reflecting and discerning in the process.
We most often recognize light in the remarkable and exciting moments of our lives, the ones that mark moments of great success and joy, but light so often appears in the mundane and unremarkable moments, beckoning to each and every one of us to hope even when hope seems ridiculous. Jesuit spirituality highlights this ordinary experience of grace and light through the Examen, the famed contemplative prayer in which precants examine their day in the presence of God, working to identify moments of fault and moments of grace that have occurred throughout the day. So often when I pray the Examen, I find light in the most ordinary and unremarkable moments. I see the light shine in the fresh fruit from breakfast, in the birds that come to my windowsill, in the texts and calls from friends, both old and new, in the random and unexpected. These moments of discernment aren’t solely limited to prayer; through other mindfulness practices, including meditation, we can also identify more of the light in our lives.
Often unbeknownst to us, light shows up throughout our lives in ways we as individuals cannot predict, providing us with mundane graces that attain new power in retrospect. We must value the light that shines in the course of our daily lives, treasuring it in our dreams for the future and cherishing its presence in our memories.
I regularly think back to my last day on campus. The morning of my last day on campus, March 6, was overcast and chilly, but the afternoon gave way to one of those beautiful, rich, timeless Georgetown sunsets that I too often took for granted. I remember seeing Georgetown disappear from view aboard the Reagan National Airport shuttle, Healy Hall shining in the distance as it towered over the Potomac River.
Life changes in the instant. That moment, another rather ordinary instant, one that had likely occurred hundreds of times before, was my last glimpse of the place I have come to love more profoundly than I could have ever imagined. And looking back on it, it seems fitting that my last memory of the Hilltop is an ordinary one, one nevertheless enveloped by warm, glorious light. The light that shone as unimaginable darkness approached. The light that the darkness and clouds could not, and will never, overcome. The light that reminds me that we, someday, will return to the Hilltop, and that the best is yet to come.
The darkness shall never rob us of that light if we continue to seek it out.
Eric Bazail-Eimil is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. Keeping the Faith appears online every other Friday.