Steen mug shot


“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.

Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

It was a tough week in the world of news.

A child who was chased by bullies was stabbed to death as he tried to escape into his mother’s car.

A woman was shot seven times and luckily survived.

A young man was afraid of the ridicule bullies would cause him for a secret they discovered about him. He committed suicide.

These were dark moments in each of their lives and the lives of those around them. A beautiful story emerged, though, of a man who stood in a courtroom offering forgiveness to and expressing love for the woman who killed his brother. 

It was a remarkable example of what Martin Luther King, Jr. explained, was necessary: light and love. I am not writing to tell you how to fix your life magically. I’m writing to tell you that you are not alone in your darkness.

When I sit down at the computer to edit a photo, I’m sometimes surprised by how dark it is. Before I learned that I could edit photos, I thought I had to throw out the pictures that were too dark. I’ve felt that way in life, also. When we find ourselves in dark times, it’s easy to think we might as well throw a relationship out the window, or worse, throw away our own lives. As with photos, bringing light into our darkness is just a matter of having the right tools and knowing how to use them.

The first thing I did when I had dark photos was panic, but the second thing I did was ask someone to help me. I knew there were people in my circle who had been shooting and editing much longer than I, and I reached out for their advice from their own experiences. When we have dark moments in life, it’s no different.

Look around you — start with a friend who seems to be handling life pretty well, or look online for articles related to what is bothering you. Depression? It’s out there. Divorce? Professionals have items online that can help you put things into perspective. Fear? Anger? Debt? Abuse? Some people have dealt with all of these topics in their own lives, and you only have to ask to find research or someone’s personal experience to help you better deal with your struggles.

Asking for help with my photos taught me about shadows and highlights. Before I brighten a picture by adding more light, I now know that I can raise (lift) the shadows to bring light to the darkness. It sounds simple, I suppose, but until someone showed me how it works, I didn’t know.

We can’t know what we don’t know. Maybe that’s where you are — thinking that your situation is unlike what anyone else has experienced, believing that the darkness will never lift. It’s not true. You might need to have someone help you with a few tools, though, to learn how to raise the shadows.

Recently, I asked some of my friends to tell me the darkest moment of their lives and how it turned out. Their stories weren’t just touching, they were stirring examples of truly dark and scary times, and you might find someone has a story like yours. I’ll share only a few:

“I lost my father in a terrible car accident. Our family was uprooted and moved to Tennessee.” Her happy ending was that because of the move, she met the man she would one day marry.

“I finally got the courage to leave the children’s father and family home due to domestic violence.” Her happy ending? She and her children lived in a room at her parents’ house for a while, then moved to a 2-bedroom apartment she said was safe and secure, and finally, after five years, she has just purchased a home that allows everyone to have their own bedroom. Happy endings don’t always come quickly, nor without scars.

“My only child died.” To see my friend today, you would think she has a great life and no worries. She does have a great life and works hard, but her “how it turned out”? “Still a daily struggle.”

The stories continued. Some had no happy ending, just a new way of living, and not all have a conclusion of any kind yet because they are still in their darkness. Even when we lift the shadows, life might not be magically sunny and happy, but with the right support, life can be pleasant, and it will go on.

Asking friends, reading articles, or finding a counselor are all great things to do when you find yourself in the darkness. Maybe you’ll do as one of my friends and sit under a tree to think — deciding that the way life is going is not the way you want life to be in the end. Maybe you’ll find the support you need to shine a light into your darkness, and then you might discover that one day, you’ll be in a position to be the light for someone else.

As I read through my friends’ stories, I was humbled and grateful that they would trust me with such truths and sadnesses. When you and I find ourselves in a position to bring light into someone else’s life, there is one vital thing we must remember — we are helping because we care. We are not helping so that we might offer shame or criticism. We are not helping so that we can receive someone’s thanks for turning on the light in the dark. 

We are the ones who should be thankful to be able to share light and love with another person. Drive out the darkness and the hate in your part of the world and watch it become a better place to be.

Susan Black Steen is a writer and photographer, a native Tennessean and a graduate of Austin Peay State University. With a firm belief that words matter, she writes and speaks to bring joy, comfort and understanding into each life. Always, she writes from her heart in hopes of speaking to the hearts of others. 

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