“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?