My Netflix binging over the last couple months has included Criminal Minds — I somehow missed it all these years. I love-with-a-capital-L a good law enforcement/crime show with a serious human interest bend. And my go-to’s, SVU, and the whole Chicago franchise, are delayed until November (thanks, COVID), so here I am, obsessed with the Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) of the FBI as portrayed in this show. And I mean OB. SESSED.
Look, I don’t even care about the crimes they follow–I mean, they’re awful, and sometimes over-the-top, and often I have to look away, but they aren’t what grabs me. What intrigues me is how well the characters are developed, how deeply the writers dig into the truth that we all have a dark side, how transparent the failings and weaknesses of these heroes are, even as they contend with the absolute worst of humanity.
I got caught up in a three-episode arc last night involving one of the agents and her somewhat sketchy past with the CIA and Interpol. Long story short, a terrorist loosely affiliated with the IRA, whose inner circle she once infiltrated during her spy days, is released from an international prison, and makes his way to the United States to exact revenge. Agent Prentiss’ first concern is keeping her BAU family safe, and so she attempts to keep her past secreted, and goes after the bad guy herself.
This doesn’t work. At all.
(Does it ever really work when we attempt to do difficult or scary things on our own, leaving out, even if with good intention, those who love and know us best?)
And so Prentiss finds herself alone. Her life in imminent danger. Nowhere to turn.
And she hears this message, left on her old spy Blackberry by the BAU’s genius-hacker-IT-gal:
“(They) asked me to try all your numbers, and I have this as an old listing, and you probably don’t even use it any more, but if it is you and you’re out there, come home, please. God, Emily, what did you think, that we would just let you walk out of our lives? I am so furious at you right now! Then I think about how scared you must be, how you’re in some dark place all alone, but you’re not alone, okay? You are not alone. We are in that dark place with you. We are waving flashlights and calling your name. So if you can see us, come home. But if you can’t, then, then you stay alive, because we’re coming.“
We are in that dark place with you. We are waving flashlights. And calling your name. We’re coming.
For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been reading a psalm every morning. I started with Psalm 1. I’m up to about 16 of the 150 of them, and y’all, there’s a theme: Of a people afraid, scared, and feeling alone. Of a people lost, looking for the way home. Of a people seeking protection from their enemies. Of a people assailed at every turn by chaos and hate.
And I’ll tell you, these psalms? We could be writing them now.
And also I’ll tell you, these psalms? They are flashlights waving in the dark, reminding us that we are not alone in our pain and grief and confusion and fear. Reminding us that God’s people–and we are all God’s people–have been in dire straits before, and not once, not yet, has God failed to be present in the awfulness, offering a lamp to guide our feet to the other side of what threatens to undo us.
A favorite story in my family is about the time I went sleep-walking one summer at church camp. I was 10 years old, and my cabin counselor woke up in the dead of night to find me missing from my top bunk. I cannot imagine how fearful she was. Nor can I imagine how hard it was for her to go wake up the camp director, who happened to be my dad, and tell him she’d lost his daughter somewhere in the swampy woods of South Texas.
I don’t remember sleep-walking. What I do remember is waking up, cold and alone, in an empty cabin, and, just before fear could swallow me whole, seeing light bobbing up and down–waving, you might say–outside.
Next thing I knew, my dad, and his waving flashlight, were carrying me out of that empty cabin and back to safety.
Y’all, so many of us are lost and alone and angry and scared. White-hot hatred and profound grief are all around us, creating space where violence riots and any attempt at reconciliation falls flat. Isolation is weaving its dangerous web in light of COVID concerns. Anxiety and depression are rampant. Darkness is all around us, pushing against our souls in ways that are changing the landscape of our lives. The collective awfulness of 2020 is a very real thing.
And still we face the every day heartaches of our individual lives, too. It’s no wonder I hear us saying over and over, “It’s too much.”
Or, as my man Pat Conroy once said to his wife, “I never expected life to be so tragic, did you? I mean, I knew it’d be hard, but sad? I don’t know how any of us do it.”
I promise you two things. One, there is someone in the world right now who needs you to be a waving flashlight in the dark. Two, there is someone in the world right now willing to be a waving flashlight for you.
Darkness is no match for even one tiny light. And I believe with all I’ve got that if we’d all just pick up our damn flashlights, and wave them fiercely, calling out the names of those the darkness is swallowing, and promise, “We’re coming for you, you are not alone….”
Well…if we did that…we’d all find ourselves with enough light to find our way home.