Editor’s Note: Rachel Smolkin is executive editor of CNN Politics. The opinions expressed in this commentary are her own.
“There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”
Mystery writer Louise Penny introduced me to these powerful Leonard Cohen lyrics in her tale of a brave and broken man suffocating from dark forces, cut off from those who love him.
Her gripping novel is ultimately a story of redemption and hope.
But in real life, that hope seemed elusive over the past week.
Two exceptional creative talents, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, took their own lives.
Spade brought joy and accessibility to fashion; Bourdain did the same to food. They shared their passions generously, offering new entry points for the experts, the enthusiasts and the merely curious to join them on their journeys.
“If I’m an advocate for anything, it’s to move,” said Bourdain, host of the acclaimed CNN series, “Parts Unknown.” “As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. Walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food. It’s a plus for everybody.”
Beneath the light that Spade and Bourdain spread, darkness crept in. And for so many of us it laps at the edges, sometimes held at bay, sometimes drawing nearer. Their pain felt both unfathomable and all too recognizable.
Bourdain, with trademark candor, had referenced the hovering darkness when he discussed his past drug use. “Something was missing in me,” he said. “Whether it was a self-image situation, whether it was a character flaw … some dark genie inside me – that I very much hesitate to call a disease – that led me to dope.”
The crack that runs through everything is an acknowledgment and acceptance of our own imperfection. If we allow ourselves to admit our suffering and vulnerability, others can push past our shells to love us, to fight our battles with us and to shield us from demons outside and in.
And yet so often right now, the opposite seems true: The vulnerabilities simply open us to further anxieties and attacks.
Perhaps we are only seeing a modern amplification of an eternal struggle – a sadness that has stretched through centuries, now magnified by the easy flow of information.
Or perhaps we are witnessing something more sinister: a particularly ugly moment in time, seeping into us and threatening to pull us under.
In our politics and on social media, from the most famous and powerful to the most anonymous peddling their hate without consequence, the cracks are not filled but cleaved open.
Vitriol is the norm, the facts are under siege, the deafening roar of destruction is in ascendance.
We compete for the most viral insult. We choose up sides and stay there. We are drowning in coarse words we once taught our children not to say.
We are awash in communications but few real connections. A like instead of a hug. A text instead of a call.
A fleeting moment of healing – a royal wedding for an American actress, a long-awaited Caps hockey triumph in a dysfunctional capital, a racehorse achieving greatness – becomes a life raft. We celebrate and then disband.
The cracks are there, exposed.
And the light is outside, somewhere far above us.
This week was a heartbreaking reminder to move toward it together, to give it a chance to get in.