Call the Darkness Light

night skyThe  solstice is past, but the days are still so short  many of us are traveling to and from work in darkness even now. I think this was the first year I really “got” why so many people deck their houses with  lights – sometimes even before they’ve polished off the Thanksgiving turkey.

They don’t do it because they feel ‘hurried into’ the season by retailers. They do it to lift their spirits.

So this year I tried doing it too, and wonder of wonders, stringing little lights did indeed help me beat back that shudder of dread I feel when the darkness comes to cloak us.

In the classic Isaac Asimov/Robert Silverberg story Nightfall, the action takes place on a planet whose sky holds as many as six suns at a time, where, at 2,000 year intervals, a mysterious event occurs that causes the land to be enveloped in darkness for the first time in anyone’s memory.

And yes, one ‘fringe’ religious sect teaches that it’s God’s judgment that brings the dark, along with the subsequent appearance of these fearsome things called ‘stars’ that rain down fire to destroy all of civilization. Few believe this though, because each time, the conflagration destroys all records.  

The reader learns only as the story unfolds that it’s the people who are responsible, because as creatures who have never in their lives experienced darkness, they panic and set the awful fires themselves, for the light.

All during December I wondered why this tale kept coming into my mind. Only in the last few days did I see it is because that same kind of wild and unreasoning fear lives also in me.

Over the past six months, we have had many ‘systems’ problems in our house, as first the washing machine died, then the dryer, then the fridge. The shower pan in the upstairs bathroom also failed so that for days on end water dripped down into the room below it.

We fixed all these problems, but not before I had expended a world of energy whining about them.

Sometime in there, social media allowed a faraway friend to take note of all this and sit down and send me this message:

Terry, I am sorry to hear about your refrigerator and the discomfort you have been having. I know just how bad it has been for you. We have seen similar things happen here. Our bathtub legs fell off while one of the girls was in the tub, the bathroom sink got clogged up and one of the refrigerator doors broke so for over a month our food was constantly spoiling.

“Thank God things are back to normal now – somewhat, LOL! The roof is still leaking but God is on that too. Remember, you are in my prayers.”

With what shame did my cheeks burn as I read this note from a woman who, virtually alone, raised up her own three children, sent them off to college, and then took in three teenaged girls to whom she has given love and care in full measure.  

The one who was in the tub when its legs broke off was pregnant when she came into her family and is expecting her baby this month, a fact that only gladdens my friend’s heart, because – as she will tell you – God is on that too.

And there it all is in a nutshell: One camp of people sees the approaching dark and panics, while the other just calls it sweet night and waits in trust for the light’s return. I think in this new year I’m going to try moving from that sad first camp into the second.



I Hang Upside Down

J3127053So what do people say when you ask what makes them feel safe? I asked that question here Tuesday and the answers were great:

A person named Joan spoke of walking briskly by the seawall on a foggy morning and hearing the foghorn. Also the sound of rain beating on the windows at night. Times like these she says she feels “safe and at one with nature.”

She wrote this the second time she posted a comment about that post.

The first time she spoke of morning coffee and gazing at the flowers in the garden window. That and brushing her dog Angel, and “that ridiculous fluff of a tail.” (I love that last part.)

Another person named Michael called up the memory of seeing Isaac Asimov being interviewed long ago on The Tonight Show. To Carson’s question about his personal vision of the future, Asimov replied: “I see the immediate future, the short term, as very dark indeed. But long term, I think the future of humanity is glorious. Unimaginably glorious. Provided we can survive the next century or so.” Consequently, Michael goes on,  he now feels he doesn’t have to contend with the same uncertainty that the madness around us stirs up. ‘It’s not that I don’t feel fear or sadness or anger, just that I don’t have that underlying ‘what the Hell is happening?’ anxiety to compound it.” What a gift to have such faith! (You can see more of Michael’ s comment on this page.)

And a  third person named Morgan, writing her reply in an email to me, spoke about the second go-round of a course on Mindfulness that she is taking. She said that for her the absence of anxiety was enough to make her feel safe.

I sure get that. When I first wake up in the morning anxiety floods all through my body, I think because I began forming a habit of overwork the summer I was 14  I have still not been entirely able to put down,  even all these years later.

But lately I have begun the practice of lying on my back with my head hanging off the edge of my bed, as per my chiropractor’s orders. In this wonderful batlike pose I can look out the window at what the rising sun is doing to the trees across the street. I can see the clouds. I can watch the planes coming in to  land at Logan Airport eight miles to the east. And best of all, I can see the birds.

These birds rise and swoop, rise and swoop and they lift anxiety from me every time I see them do it. ‘It’s a new day,’ I tell myself then, ‘and I’m waking in a world whose sun rose with no help from me at all.’

Then I begin to feel calm. Calm and safe too, in a world not of my making.

I often wish I had a dog with a big fluffy tail like the sweet drooly Golden we had as children but until I can get one, or walk again along a beach, or hear rain on a roof, while I await that unimaginably glorious future Mr. Asimov saw so clearly, this will have been enough. This will have been more than enough.

morning sun in spring