When the Lights Go On Again…

This has been a year that I think none of us will forget.  Try as we may, this is the kind of year one remembers for a lifetime, a year that will be spoken of for generations to come. For me, and I believe for most of us, 2020 began like most other years with hopeful optimism for the future.  I personally had many plans on the calendar for vacations, celebrations and other activities with family and friends.  We looked forward to social gatherings, group campouts and trade shows, as well as graduations from both kindergarten and high school.  Suddenly all of it was cancelled, or at least curtailed in a most dramatic way.  This is something we all can understand.  All our lives were changed.

I think of my grandmother, Lucile Kellett, who passed away five years ago at the age of 101 years.  Born in 1914, she lived through World War I and knew people in our family who died from the Spanish Flu influenza outbreak of 1918-19.  She and my grandfather Boyce were married during the Great Depression, and they endured the years of World War II together.  They lived through some arduous times of sorrow, famine, unrest and pestilence.

Many hard and trial filled years would come for their children and grandchildren, but there was good cause for my grandparents’ generation to be referred to as the Greatest Generation.  You could see it in their old and wise eyes, beyond our understanding, but it was there.  The tragic events of worldwide consequence that they lived through with community and self-sacrifice, courage and fortitude are noteworthy beyond what my generation had grown accustom.  Honestly, having lived 57 years, I had begun to doubt if I would ever see a year like this one, if I would ever really understand Grandma and Grandpa.  I doubt no more.

On March 12, 2020, leaders of my faith announced the temporary suspension of all church gatherings worldwide in response to the growing pandemic.  This move on the part of the church was not without precedence, as services were suspended for months during the height of the 1918-19 influenza pandemic.  That very night, I sat down with my children and we determined that they would not be returning to school until after this was over. The next day the school district followed suit, and in the days following, stay-at-home restrictions were ordered by governments.  We have been home schooling and social distancing ever since.

As if the COVID-19 pandemic and loss of life was not enough, the protests, violent crime and rioting that have broken out nationwide and around the globe have made our hearts want to fail us.  With an especially contentious election and aftermath, food and supply shortages, wildfires, wind-storms, disagreements at all levels on quarantining or of wearing masks, and the burdensome weight that response to the pandemic has placed upon businesses and families with rampant economic worries world-wide, this has been a year not to be forgotten.

I love good music of many ages and genres.  Music has a timeless power to lift and to soothe, to invoke empathy and provide comfort.  Although it predates me, I have long enjoyed the music of the 1940s.  The wartime anthems of that era were helpful in unifying and providing hope to our nation when we were desperately fighting for the survival of liberty.

I recall one day early in the pandemic, when California was under stay-at-home orders, I heard a song from the World War II era that really caught my attention.  “When the Lights Go On Again” was composed by Bennie Benjamin and recorded by Vaughn Monroe in 1943.  It hit the number one spot on the charts that year.  It was also recorded by Vera Lynn.  I really enjoy listening to both versions.  It provides hope for a time when the war will be over and the lights of homes and cities will again be lit for no fear of night bombers.  Although those were different days and different trials, I could not help but see the similarities to our day, to our year:

When the lights go on again all over the world

And the boys are home again all over the world

And rain or snow is all that may fall from the skies above

A kiss won’t mean “goodbye” but “hello to love”

When the lights go on again all over the world

And the ships will sail again all over the world

Then we’ll have time for things like wedding rings and free hearts will sing

When the lights go on again all over the world

I think this song so struck me because last January I hosted a dance for youth with the theme Harbor Lights.  Then, as quickly as you could turn out lights, there were no more dances or parties.  Proms, graduations and weddings were called off or postponed indefinitely.  Cruise ships no more set sail, restaurants closed, and hellos were few and far between, and never accompanied with a kiss.  It was like somebody had just turned out the lights.

This has been a trying year.  We are looking forward to when the kids can be with their teachers and friends in school again.  We long for the day when once again congregating in faith and fellowship can be a thing that feels safe and comfortable.  I am a sentimental person and eagerly wait for the time when we see long-time friends and greet with a joyful hug and kiss.  I want to greet the world with an open hand of friendship and welcoming arms of affection in the public square, at business conferences, restaurants, in homes and congregations.  Will it not be wonderful when we can gather for holidays with no risk nor hesitation?

Yes, it has been a trying year, nevertheless it has been rewarding.  Homeschooling and home-worship has had its blessings, and for that I am grateful.  We have learned to live with what we have and appreciate little opportunities to friendship, minister and fellowship.  We have learned to sacrifice as individuals and for the community good.  I don’t think I will ever take for granted again a welcoming handshake or a heartfelt hug.  I think I understand Grandma and Grandpa a lot better now.  They knew hardship and sacrifice, but they also knew as I know now that the lights will go on again, dear friends will be able to embrace again, new opportunities will come, and glorious sunrises will yet dawn.  

While Thanksgiving was smaller than normal, and Christmas will be a little quiet, our hearts can be faith-filled with reasoned hope, that this time will pass and leave us more appreciative and wiser still.  May the lights burn bright in your Christmas and holiday season to a promising new year of faith, hope, health, gratitude, joy and peace.

Daniel Malcolm is an entrepreneur, journalist, photographer, husband to Monica and father of twelve. He is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and is a witness of the gospel of Jesus Christ and His Atonement.