Often called the festival of light, Divali or Dipavali is actually the festival of little lights or little lamps. Dipavali means a row of lights. We kindle rows of little lights or dipas to guide Lakshmi into our home. In other traditions, the little lights guide Lord Rama home from Lanka to Ayodhya. The real Ayodhya is not a place on a map. 'Ayodhya' means 'no conflict'. The real Ayodhya is the state of living free from conflict.
In this Divali blog, I want to draw our attention to some people who are overcoming the darkness of adversity, lighting little lamps of hope.These three young women--two of them still schoolgirls--have been inspiring me all year long and brightening the flame of my heart.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yusufzai faced the adversity of turmoil and extremism in her native Swat, followed by a journey through the valley of the shadow of death after she was shot in the head. She woke to find herself in a hospital in Birmingham, far from her friends and her beloved native land. Yet she continues lighting candles of hope for children around the world and speaking truth to power, even telling President Obama to stop the drone attacks in Pakistan. As a Nobel laureate at her young age, she holds an unique position in tending the lights of truth and justice that guide us towards the place beyond conflict. To hear Malala speaking for herself, watch her entire Nobel acceptance speech.
My friend Sabina England faces the adversity of profound deafness. Sabina and I have never actually met, but I feel that she really is my friend, as we share so many cultural connections, and we do correspond from time to time. Sabina is a remarkable writer, film-maker and performance artist. Her films express her activism, love of life, passion, spirituality and humour in an extraordinary way. Like Malala's peace work, Sabina's films are bright dipas of awakening, offered to all of us who are deafened by the busy noisiness of the world. Take a look at her eight minute film Deaf Brown Gurl for some special inspiration this Divali.
Lastly, but never least, I'll mention my niece Ruth. Born with Down Syndrome, Ruth faces a lot of adversity in finding her autonomy and actualizing her quite amazing creative vision. She is interested in puppetry and has her own Punch and Judy puppets. Last New Year, Ruth and I saw the New Year in together with my mother, who is in her late eighties and suffers with dementia. We spent New Year's Eve making music. I would play a song on my fiddle and then Ruth would strum her guitar and sing a song. We talked about the people and events that were important to us in the past year and our hopes for the year to come. Finally we sang Auld Lang Syne as 2014 arrived.
Ruth might not be a Nobel Laureate or a famous performance artist like the other young women in this blog (or not yet, anyway), but she definitely lights lamps of joy for my mother. Ruth showers Mum with affection in a way that is truly healing. The challenges Ruth faces don't stop her giving a lot to anyone who is open to receive what she has to offer.
The dipas that are lit on Divali are quite tiny. Yet when billions of these little lamps are twinkling, India shines so brightly that the radiance can be seen from space. Malala, Sabina and Ruth are keeping their lamps shining in the face of challenges and adversity. And as the dipa is made more lovely by the surrounding darkness, they are turning their adversity into a gift. If each one of us keeps brightening our little dipas by the daily practice of being true to ourselves, we can light the way to the city beyond conflict.
A diya - Indian oil lamp. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)