The Lights of Diwali, and Also the Dark

The Lights of Diwali, and Also the Dark November 2, 2013

Everyone has to make a living somehow. Some weekends, my job has me blessing unions in the name of the Holy. All kinds of people end up finding each other. Once, it was somebody raised in the Black church tradition marrying someone whose family had been Hindu since before time began. So out I went to the Hindu Community Center, for an evening cram session with one of the priests.

To get there, you take the last exit west of Knoxville before the highway divides (south to Chattanooga or west on to Nashville). You can’t miss the exit, and not only because it’s across from Cupid’s Outlet, a log-cabin where they sell discount marital aids. You can’t miss the exit because, at night, it is lit to the horizon with the radiance the sun will one day give off when it finally dies. Like when the flashbulb on a camera explodes in that blinding split-second, only this one stays on. The source of it all is a two-story white building. On the front, it says, “Fireworks” in ten-foot-tall letters, with dazzling red stars shooting out over top. It sparkles like a helicopter arrived, pouring fat sacks of glitter. Klieg lights, bright as any maximum security prison, wash out the landscape. Outsized American flags ring the lot, the largest—a piece of cloth about the size of Knox County—on a pole at the center. A blinking sign in large letters reads, “Open to the Public!” Lest someone might think this was meant to be private. The road behind it winds its way past a place that sells guns, a few sagging barns, then the fenced desperation they call a “golfing community,” before you reach the yellow building where the Hindus all meet.

The priest I was seeking had not yet arrived, but another priest beckoned me into a chair. His English was paltry. My Hindi was zilch. But all kinds of people end up finding each other. So, with smiles and shrugs, we attained a sweet, flickering connection as he tried to tell me about one time he went to Atlanta. For a time, an ocean of difference between us dissolved.

Of the world’s great traditions, Hinduism seems most to pull off the American dream of “E pluribus unum.” Out of many, comes one. This and that, all together. The priest and I, unified. Like how Shakti, the divine feminine power, contains nurture alongside destruction, light along with the dark. The Gospel of John says, “The light shines in the dark, and the darkness has not put it out.” Hindus would not disagree, not exactly. The holiday of Diwali, with its clay jars and fireworks, comes around to say light will win in the end. But no matter how bright the light, the priest might have told me (had I had any Hindi), darkness won’t be extinguished. In this old world, at all times, dark abides. Wherever you can be found–ancient India, maybe, or else only off an American highway where untold travelers, rapt with fear and desire, purchase sex toys and guns and the dream of new life in a golfing community—wherever it is, the dark will be welling up into the light, and the brightest of lighting will not put it out. Instead, light and dark in a life will at long last forge union. Everyone, in the end, makes a living somehow. And it’s my job to bless it in the name of the Holy.

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