I awoke before dawn this morning, and went outside with my coffee to watch the sky as it lightened. As is typical for this part of the world, it was a cloudless sky, a sheer and perfect continuum of subtle shades ranging from light orange in the east, to deep blue above, then down to midnight black in the west, where stars still shone.
Directly overhead, the moon mirrored this earthly distinction, but without its subtle interplay of light and dark – instead, the moon was starkly divided, right down the middle, into two hemispheres: a world of bright day contrasting with one of deepest night.
The previous evening, I had watched with millions of others as the family of the American aid worker wept over her murder in the mid-east. Kayla Mueller had attempted to shed some light onto the land under the black flag, that land of moral darkness now illuminated redly, like a volcanic caldera, by the fire of those burned alive in cages, by tracer fire arcing over desert hills, and by the red-black blood pouring from the severed necks of the innocent.
Shutting off the monitor filled with images of weeping relatives, I had walked outside in the night, and looked upwards. Whether at dawn or during the evening, the sky here is nearly identical to that over the land of ISIS. It is clear, cloudless, and at this time of the year, Orion the Hunter hangs directly overhead. The Egyptians modeled the arrangement of the pyramids of Giza on the stars in Orion’s belt: in 4,500 years, neither have shifted perceptibly.
The same sky overhangs us both – Orion rides high above the heads of the merciful and compassionate, such as Kayla, as well as above the heads of those who murder in the name of the All-Merciful and Compassionate, such as her executioners.
It is both light and dark, ever-changing yet never-changing, this eternal sky that looks down upon us all, mirroring in its subtle shadings and sharp contrasts, the complex interplay of good and evil that tugs back and forth in every human heart. Like all of us below, the desert sky is neither all darkness nor all light: it is an ever-changing mixture of both, overshadowing every subtle variation from the saintly to the satanic among us mortals below.
So as I looked up into the sky again this morning, I became starkly aware of the bright dividing line on the face of the moon standing between night and day, goodness and evil. It perfectly bisected the moon hanging directly over my head. I stared at this stark contrast and remembered that scientists call that dividing line “the terminator”. And I thought, how apt a metaphor it is for this moment in human history.
Like the edge of the sword of Damocles, the terminator divides. It forces a choice – this side or that – and we weak human beings who like to dawdle in the twilight between good and evil, choosing one side or another as our moods dictate – we cannot delay our choice forever.
Eventually we must decide – do we want to live in the light, or in the darkness? Do we want to be a ray of mercy to those who invoke the name of the All-Merciful, or do we prefer to hide our broken natures in the shadows of violence and intolerance for those of a different creed?
Like nature itself, the changing cycles of light and darkness are inevitable and inexorable: we cannot delay them or bend them to our will. We cannot hold them back for a second. They operate with complete disregard for our preferences. Like blindfolded Justice with her sword and her scales, they are concerned only with what is, not what we would wish it to be.
So as much as we flit about like fish in the shallows of our moral twilight where good and evil intermix, we must eventually turn our eyes to the truth, and choose to either rise towards the light shining down upon us, or dive deeper into the darkness so as to escape its awful, relentless power to show us the truth about ourselves.
And it is in our response to this inevitable change from night to day that we learn something profound about our own hearts. When we look across this great sea of humanity into the hearts of our brothers and sisters, Kayla and ISIS, we see reflections of our own inclinations towards evil or nobility, towards compassion or murder, as each of our souls is either rising towards the light, or diving away from it into the cold comfort of the shadows.
Yet the terminator is moving relentlessly across the landscape of each of our hearts. Every one of us must choose to dwell in the light or in the darkness, because no person can remain in the moral twilight forever.
So, standing there in my backyard, I turned my back towards the darkness and decided to face towards the east. With great consciousness of my own inner shadows, I managed still to smile at the dawn shining back at me.
I smiled because I realized that this tear-filled night through which the world is groaning is now already passing away, already yielding to the inevitable power of the light that we can choose to embrace.
As the sun broke over the mountains, it warmed me. I stood there sipping the coffee and soaked up the light.
It felt good. It felt really, really good.