Jenn Hoos Rothberg -

Dec 17, 2020

When you can’t see the light, be the light

"Mommy, I just asked you for a hug. Take your hands off of your computer and focus on what you're supposed to do."

My nearly eight-year-old son, Elliott, proceeded to lift my hands off of my keyboard and put my face into his hands, turning my gaze towards his, in order to get my undivided attention. I'll admit, it took me more than a few seconds to make the shift.

"You're supposed to do" is such an interesting phrase. In that moment, I thought I was supposed to finish writing that email. I thought I was supposed to respond to the ever-increasing Slack notifications. I thought I was supposed to zoom into my fourth of six meetings that day. Or perhaps, I was supposed to eat my uneaten lunch that my husband, Jon, so thoughtfully left at the edge of my makeshift home desk, out of camera-view, as he’s been doing nearly every day since our work-from-home lives began in mid-March.

I was supposed to do so many things in that very minute, but it turned out the only thing I was supposed to do was look into my son’s eyes, take him into my arms, and relish the nourishing rush of oxytocin that came coursing through my veins. And his.

I've found that it’s become nearly impossible to get undivided attention on almost anything this entire year—a year in which our world’s challenges were amplified by a global pandemic, an economic crisis, political polarization around a remarkably-divisive election, and much-needed racial justice reckoning. We watched, witnessed, and experienced this all unfold at the same time, at historic proportions.

This is also a year where our homes thankfully became safe harbors, and yet, increasingly feel ill-equipped to be the only places where we live, work, educate, care for, and have joy in. As stress and anxiety have loomed around the unknowns and the unconventional, it’s easy to lose sight of the gifts and the light right before our eyes.

But here was Elliott, confidently interrupting me, performing the magic of the absolutely necessary and the increasingly impossible. Elliott was giving me exactly what I needed, when I couldn’t see it for myself.

Last December—a year and an eon ago—Parker Palmer, one of my mentors, author, activist, and founder of the Center for Courage and Renewal, urged all of us to be the light for each other:

In times of deep darkness, we not only NEED light. We need to be the light for one another.

I wonder if Parker realized how powerful his words would feel a year later. In his post, Parker points to Mary Oliver’s retelling of the death of the Buddha, The Buddha’s Last Instruction:

"Make of yourself a light,"

said the Buddha

before he died.

Reading Parker’s post reminded me that it had been far too long since I had walked in the sweet hay field of Mary Oliver’s poetry. (What was I making of my one wild and precious life, anyhow?)

Soon, I found myself waist deep in the “orange flares” of Mary’s Poppies, where once again she urged me towards light:

But I also say this: that light
is an invitation to happiness
and that happiness
When it's done right
is a kind of holiness
palpable and redemptive.

Did Mary know what a beacon she would be to all of us, especially in a year like this one? How could she have? Rather she made herself into a prism, reflecting the beautiful light of nature out of herself in glorious rainbows etched in ink that allowed millions of eyes to see and feel their radiant truth.

What is our humanity but a reflection of ourselves in each other’s eyes? We all know it when we see it. We all know it when we feel it. And we only see it and feel it when we look for it and find it in each other.

In a year of looming darkness that seems to reach to every corner of the globe—of struggle and grief, of distance and distrust—it can feel easier to withdraw into ourselves, into our emails and Slack notifications, the habits of distance and isolation that can be hard to overcome. But it is incumbent on each of us—as Elliott did for me—to call each other in and remind us of our humanity. To gently (and sometimes not so gently) nudge our way into each other’s lives: with a kind word, with an impromptu phone call, with a midday kiss and homemade sandwich, with a 30-second hug (as Elliott calls it).

Even on the darkest days, we each have the power to be the light for someone else, especially for those who are having the hardest time seeing it. And if you’re having trouble seeing the light amidst these dark days, try being the light for someone else. A simple act becomes a gift of mutuality. Humanity, after all, is a collective state. It only works if we do it, together.

This month, Ira Hillman, our Bonding Lead, shares eight ways you can be the light for your friends and family during this strangely distant festive season using the power of nurture science. Jon Gruber, our Building Lead, celebrates the conclusion of Einhorn Collaborative’s partnership with NationSwell on their #BuildItBackBetter campaign by summarizing the key themes of practical wisdom shared by field leaders like Parker Palmer, whose insights and advice can help all of us live a more connected, relational life. And below, we share a few other resources from across our partners that we hope will help you be the light, for yourself, for your loved ones, and for our collective humanity.

Or just go take a walk among the trees, as Mary Oliver suggests:

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It's simple,” they say,
"and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

Wishing you a light-filled and restorative close to this remarkable year,


Jenn Hoos Rothberg leads Einhorn Collaborative. You can learn more about our work here and more about Jenn here. Sign up here to receive our monthly newsletter and be the first to read Jenn’s posts.