“For there is always light. If only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.” — “The Hill We Climb” by Amanda Gorman, National Youth Poet Laureate
Words have the power to incite the worst of us. We saw that on January 6. We saw that for the last four years. We saw that throughout our history as Americans and will still sadly see that far into our future.
However, words also have the power to inspire the best in us. We saw that on Wednesday, as President Joe Biden’s Inauguration Day celebrations ushered in a new era for Americans—an era of words that aren’t dripping with vitriol, devoid of empathy, and divorced from the truth. Wednesday was a day filled with words that acknowledged the harsh facts of our current reality, offered healing to those who are hurting, and offered hope for the future.
And those words mattered.
When Lady Gaga sang about the flag still being there only two weeks after Capitol was besieged by insurrectionists, it mattered. When Jennifer Lopez recited part of the Pledge of Allegiance in Spanish, it mattered. When President Biden told us, “Don’t tell me things can’t change,” it mattered. When Kamala Harris—the first female, Black, and Asian American Vice President of the United States—took her oath of office with conviction in her voice and a smile on her face, it mattered.
And when Amanda Gorman took the podium to recite “The Hill We Climb”—her poetic testament to “a nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished”—it mattered.
Many words will be remembered from that cold January day in Washington, D.C., but none will be remembered more than the words of a 22-year-old young woman who asked us, “Where can we find light in this never-ending shade?” and answered with the powerful reminder that the light we seek is all around us—and inside of us.
“If only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”
I’m not the same person I was before hearing those words.
For many reasons, I’ve spent this week reflecting on the power of words to either add to the darkness or help us find the light. And those words from a young woman 10 years my junior reached into my soul and wrapped syllables and vowels and consonants around an idea that I’ve lived my life by for as long as I can remember but have never been able to articulate.
Some people have a life motto. My sister, for example, lives by Peggy Carter’s words, “I know my value.” They’re written on her heart and describe everything about the way she sees the world and her place in it.
Despite my love of words, I’d never connected with specific words on that level. I’d never heard or read something that made me stop in my tracks and say, “That’s it. That’s how I want to live.”
That changed on Wednesday.
“For there is always light. If only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”
That’s it. That’s how I want to live.
The world is often dark, and it can be easy to give ourselves over to that “never-ending shade.” Cynicism is often the path of least resistance. Apathy settles in faster than we ever believe it can. The prospect of believing in the best—in our country, in each other, and even in ourselves—can feel exhausting.
But we can be brave. We can choose to see the light—even when it’s hard (especially when it’s hard). And we can choose to be the light—even when it feels pointless (especially when it feels pointless).
Amanda Gorman may be young, but she’s not naive. “The Hill We Climb” highlights our pain as much as our promise, and it implores us to be better, “because being American is more than a pride we inherit; it’s the past we step into and how we repair it.” But it reminds us that we have the power to build a better world, as President Biden likes to say, not by the example of our power but by the power of our example.
“Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true. That even as we grieved, we grew. That even as we hurt, we hoped. That even as we tired, we tried.”
That’s how we move forward. That’s how we build a better nation. We admit to the hurts we’ve caused and the grief we bear, but we don’t stop writing our story. We refuse to let the American story be a tragedy, and we recommit to creating a national narrative of hope and healing for all.
Words matter. They’re how I choose to see the light—the words of a Vice President who is showing young girls that ambition is good and joy is infectious; the words of a President who speaks of faith because he believes it, grief because he’s lived it, and empathy because he’s driven by it; and the words of a young woman who held a mirror up to our nation and spoke with such elegance and eloquence that none of us wanted to look away.
And they’re how I choose to be the light—the words I share because maybe they can make even one other person out there feel less alone in their hopes, their joys, and their struggles.
Words matter. And I’m never going to forget the words of Amanda Gorman—the words that inspired a nation and spoke to my soul.
Powerfully universal and deeply personal.
The best of what writing—what words—can be.
What was the best thing you saw on TV this week?
It’s hard to top this as the best thing I saw this week. I believe anyone who heard Gorman’s words would not say they were impactful, beautiful, lyrical, and insightful. I think we all walked away with lines and moments that struck us at the core – for me “because being American is more than a pride we inherit; it’s the past we step into and how we repair it.” sunk into me like a piece of DNA. As a person who has never bought into the idea of American exceptionalism let alone full throated patriotism, it is a component of my being by the very nature of being an American. My life’s work resting in the repairs we must make. It was a stunning display. And as a companion piece later that night I thought the best thing I would have seen was Anderson Cooper Fanboying and flabbergasted by her poise and goundedness when he interviewed her and his willingness to be fully present in that moment, transparent and vulnerable.
But as treasured as both these things are and for as much joy as they gave me this week, the single best thing I saw on TV this week was In and Of Itself over on HULU. And I should start by saying I have no idea how to describe or qualify it other than to say this was a live theatrical experience (part one man show/part magic/part something indescribable) that I kicked myself for not seeing live when it played in New York. I was eager to see it as a result. I am also remiss to say much because while now available widely, it’s still an experience. One that should be had with as little interpreted knowledge possible. One that should be paid attention to and reflected on and take their advice when they say shut off your cell phone.
I can’t wait to have conversations with friends once they’ve seen it. I was moved to awe and tears in my living room alone in the dark last night. And I felt when it ended it embodied the thing I’ve missed most this past year — the human connection theater and live performance provide. It’s unique. It’s healing. It’s critical to my soul thriving in this world. It is for me a must see and the best thing I saw on TV this week.
P.S. – For those who’ve seen it. My moment was when he looked the woman in the eye and said “You’re like me…”
First of all, YES to Anderson Cooper being a total gushing fanboy. It was such a perfect moment of joy, and my mom and I thoroughly enjoyed watching it together.
And now onto In and Of Itself, which just skyrocketed up my list of things I need to watch ASAP. I’m so happy that it gave you a little piece of what restores your soul back. I felt a little bit of that this weekend when everyone in my house settled in to watch One Night in Miami, and it was the closest I’ve felt to being in a movie theater in a long time. I cannot wait to experience this thing that spoke to your spirit so deeply and then come freaking out to you about it.
I really love everything about this post. It feels so extremely you, which is completely right for something talking about finding those words that clarify your whole life to you.
I have to agree that Amanda Gorman’s poem this was the best thing on TV last week and will be one of the best of the year. Her words are gorgeous and insightful and felt like everything this moment needed and coupled with her incredible delivery, it was something I’ll never forget. I am with you on the line that stood out the most. I wish I could remember who I first heard it from but it was someone on Twitter who wrote “hope is a practice” and it resonated with me at the time and this echoed back to that feeling. It’s easy to think everything is dark and it’s certainly felt that way for a lot of the past four years. But the act of finding the light and working to be some of that light yourself is how to sustain yourself even when things feel bleak.
My other nominee for best thing on TV was once again The Expanse which insists on stressing me out constantly but always has such strong performances. This week it was Dominique Tipper’s ability to portray Naomi’s combination of exhaustion, resolve, and desperation to save her family even as she lost all hope of being saved herself. Her face and demeanor were gutting and you couldn’t help but be proud of her cleverness and how hard she fought to get a limited message out with next to no resources. Closely followed by Cara Gee’s scream of grief and rage after learning (incorrectly) that Naomi had died. It was visceral and conveyed so much of both Drummer’s love for Naomi and frustration at the situation she’s found herself in.
Please talk about The Expanse forever because even though I know nothing about this show besides what you tell me, I am so all in on these characters and how much you love them and the actors who play them. ❤
Also, "hope is a practice" is so beautiful and so true. It's not easy, and it's felt really hard for the last year in particular. But that's why it's a practice. It's something we keep doing to get better at it because that's how we built a better world.
There’s my sunshine girl! I think all of us read this and nodded. Yes, this is Katie — being brave enough to see and be light. I know you’ve struggled with feeling the need to be positive all the time, and I’m soooo proud that haven’t let that define you. The glorious thing about being light is that it doesn’t necessarily require you to be positive or happy at all times — you merely need to be. And truly, isn’t what you do on this blog finding light? I think so.
I had to actually work from work (rather than home) on Wednesday. But this is what dual monitors are for, yes? Inauguration on one; work on the other. Gorman was awesome. I also loved Lady Gaga’s national anthem. I sang along with Garth Brooks (all while pointing out to the computer screen that there are more verses, perfectly good verses, and OH GOOD GRIEF STOP HUGGING PEOPLE DURING A PANDEMIC. Of course, Yo-Yo Ma’s version of “Amazing Grace” that evening was just beyond beautiful). I loved the earnestness of Biden’s speech.
My own TV watching is pretty light. I’ve been hanging out on TCM and HGTV. However, it sounds like I need to jump on “The Expanse.”
Thank you so much Tempest! I like to think of this little bright pink corner of the internet as my way of finding the light too. ❤
I both sang with and yelled at Garth Brooks too! Beautiful job, Garth, but social distancing is a thing for a reason!!!
Thank you for pointing out that words matter.