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The Light in the Darkness Around Us

William Stafford’s “A Ritual to Read to Each Other” isn’t a simple poem — but please hang on through all its twists and turns! It’s full of wisdom about what we can do to help right wrongs that often feel overwhelming.

The racism and religious bigotry that darken our world come, in part, from the fact that we don’t know “the other” in his or her simple and sacred humanity. That’s why we’re constantly at risk of “following the wrong god home” and allowing “a pattern that others made to prevail in the world.”

We need to reach out across our lines of otherness — to learn that our differences are assets, not threats. But first we must meet a few challenges, as Stafford’s poem suggests:

Do we have the honesty to acknowledge our own shadow, to refuse to pretend that “our tribe” always holds the moral high ground?

Can we stop trying to fool each other and start telling the truth, “lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark?”

Can we stay awake and not be lulled back to sleep, knowing that when we succumb to the lesser angels of our nature, the darkness around us grows deeper than deep?

Let’s say a clear “Yes” to the dignity and inherent worth of all people. Let’s say a clear “No” to anyone who, in word or deed, tries to strip others of those qualities. Let’s live our lives as light that dispels the darkness.

A Ritual to Read to Each Other
By William Stafford

If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the
and following the wrong god home we may miss
our star.

(Excerpted from The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems. Read the full poem here.)

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