In the London Borough of Hackney where I live, the twinkling fairy lights decorating the trees and street lamps are switched on at the end of October, just as the evenings get darker and winter sets in. They mark the start of the winter festivals of light that are celebrated over the next couple of months. The first is usually Diwali, followed by Hanukkah, Advent, St Lucia’s Day, and Christmas. London is a vibrant, diverse, multi-cultural city and, even for those with no faith, there is something symbolic and uplifting about piercing the gloom with the glow of candles, lamps and lights as we approach mid-winter and the end of the year.
Sometimes it is hard to remain hopeful. For too many it has been a difficult challenging year. Our hearts ache at the plight of Cumbrian communities plunged into darkness by the floods. Refugee camps are frightening, cold and dark. Many will have experienced the dark times of loss. For others relationships have ended and feelings of certainty, safety and security have been shaken.
Often the people I see for relationship counselling are in despair. Yet I am struck by their courage in reaching out to make that first appointment. Somewhere, amongst all the distress, anger, fear, frustration or resentment, is the idea that changes can be made and things could be different.
Alongside the painful description of conflict and disappointment, and alongside an exploration of the difficulties, I ask clients to remember the beginning of the relationship: how they met, how they fell in love, what it is that was so special and valued about their partner. So often a couple will look at each other and smile. Faces will light up at the recall of a particular intimate memory.
I am privileged to work with people who dare to believe there could be a light at the end of the tunnel – while simultaneously overwhelmed at the risk of daring to hope. It can take resilience to tolerate the feelings of vulnerability as they dare to lower defences and reach out to each other. I try to encourage them to stay in touch with the good things they share, the love, the strengths of their relationship, however fragile they may seem. They need those thoughts to balance the darkness when confronting the toxic elements of the relationship, the painful differences, the hurt, and where they are stuck.
‘This too can pass’ – if we keep hold on to the light!