Ah, the dark. We can’t ignore or outrun it. We can only walk, tentatively, nervously or purposefully through it. Pretty good spiel from someone who turns to TV for sound in a silent house and flips my lights on through an app, assuring me that life is visibly still present. Yet, I still remember, back when there was an abundance of life and noise in my house. I wince now remembering how I would make the occasional nonsensical wish that I’d have “just five minutes without someone arguing, or calling mom, mommy, ma.” I guess that’s not abnormal in a life with three active kids, right? Now I hear those same kids, whose babes today populate their homes, make that same joking wish sometimes. However inadvertent, my unvoiced wishes for the occasional quiet were answered to the max last year — and , boy, does that ever suck.
They say ‘Be careful what you wish for because you might get it.” Hey, universe, I never wished for THIS! Yet, all of us humans yearn for the greener grass, never really contemplating that it might be overrun with dandelions. Try telling a kid, who can’t wait for a grownup’s clothes, and privileges, that it ain’t all that, and you’ll get a withering look. How about newlyweds who wish they could take a short cut through all the trips and falls on the trip to real oneness? The one thing none of us wish is darkness, the kind that illness, loss of love, loss of dreams and of course the mother load that scary dark brings — death. Yet, dark is the flip side of all the good stuff. We can’t avoid it, we have to find our way through it.
No one is comfortable with funerals or wakes. I used to shake each time I entered a funeral home, wishing with all my might, I could just phone it in. Maybe it had something to do with my Italian grandmother’s hysterical wailing as she threw herself, pulling her hair as she went, on my grandfather’s coffin. Yeah, that might do it. Or the earth-swallowing experience of standing in the pouring rain while they lowered my young brother into the ground. I’ve always been plain terrified of even the mere mention of death. It’s never been the topic of chatty conversation and it’s only as years go by that the obits seem like a good place to start your day. (that was a joke). Yet, death pays the occasional visit to everyone in some way. The night it slithered up the stairs in my own home, gloating over my husband, it forced me to look straight into its eyes and changed me forever. For some ludicrous reason, I actually think darkness scares me less today. Crazy, right? One of the first things I did after that terrible night, was tear down the pretty plaque in my bedroom that said “The best is yet to be”. Hah! But, as the months grew long, my noir sense of humor began to consider the saying “Every silver lining has a cloud” had a little truth to it. Clouds, along with even the most inky darkness, are shoved aside when light eventually peeks in. Okay, that light might be only a flashlight at the end of the tunnel, but it still can illuminate. When the worst happens, it seems nothing will ever have the ability to torch you that completely again. You’re a superhero. Your bionic vision can peer into darkness and find even the smallest pinpoints of light.
I used to be afraid of the dark until I learned that I am a light. Now the darkness is afraid of me.
An insatiable reader, my book list is as eclectic as my music playlists (and me!). From novels to biographies, mysteries to those which defy definition of cheery, all provide inspiration that packs a wallop. Sometimes the words I read help me feel my way into the unknown; sometimes they appear as a blueprint for life. Some brave authors’ writings appeal to my own offbeat sense of humor but all are more eloquent, moving and a touchstone for life at its most important. They can also be transformative, reminding me that, in the darkest of times, the bravest among us can still see, feel and share the light. Here are a few that have shined for me:
The Bright Hour – memoir of living and dying (Nina Riggs)
When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalinithi
The Last Lecture – Randy Pausch.
The Long Goodbye – Meghan O’Rourke
Tuesdays with Morrie – Mitch Albom
The Year of Magical Thinking – Joan Didion
Survival Lessons – Alice Hoffman
Remember the Sweet Things – Ellen Greene
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly – Jean-Dominique Bauby
Anyone who knows me will confirm that I am anything but a pessimist. Darkness just doesn’t fit my persona, though to be truthful, blondes do look good in black so I have a significant amount of noir in my wardrobe. I’ve just never been good at embracing the dark side of life even though they say it inspires us creative types. I’d say that’s why I may never achieve Pulitzer status, but I’d wager lack of that level of talent has more to do with it. Still, I need a healthy dose of both dark and light to, not only be inspired, but to move forward in any real way.
All of us have had our share of truly dark moments, even months or years of them. Loss of loved ones top the charts but also happen when we encounter unexpected illness, are confronted with chronic pain, a divorce, job loss, betrayal or even the creeping effects of aging. All can shove us into a dark abyss. We wrestle with it, try to deny it but mostly we just work like hell not to get enveloped in it. We eventually move through it, but it’s never a straight or easy shot.
The thing is, darkness is what we have to experience to really recognize and appreciate the light. As an artist, it’s so clear that whatever is lit, also casts a beautiful shadow. It’s the chiaroscuro of light and dark that draws us in. Remember, even stars can’t shine without darkness. As Desmond Tutu said, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all the darkness”.
I’m the last one to tell you that this whole light and dark business is a cakewalk. Looking back at my own worst times, I can’t help but remember my father’s pitch black hobby photography darkroom, where negatives developed into beautiful images that would long live in the light.
Today, even if all you can manage is a glimmer of light, grab it. If you feel afraid or undeserving of feeling all the light on your face, go for it anyway. Slap on the sunscreen and warm yourself in every single ray of light. Night will always come and darkness with it. But after its done its worst, we slowly wake to another day, ready or not, reluctant or not. It’s then we can take a page from that kooky summer firefly and decide to — BE the light.