Light and darkness is a theme that runs through my writing and, more importantly, through my life. I’ve written at great length about how important the solstice is to me. This is particularly true of the winter solstice, which is the holiest day of the year for me. Part of this is from our long family tradition of celebrating on December 21st with a black tie party that, towards midnight, involves a ceremony to mark the return of the sun. More, though, the day is sacred because it’s the closest I come to communion with the earth’s actual turning, with the essential, primal rhythms of day and night, light and dark, to which our lives thrum.
I don’t think it’s merely because I chose light as my word of 2012 that these are themes to which I’ve returned with even more regularity and zeal this year. I am often moved to tears by the quality of light in nature, and the metaphor of dark and light has also been one to which I am consistently drawn. Light and darkness. Holiness and grace. Radiance and shadow. We keep on turning, and the shadows keep dancing, the light flickering. All I can do is keep watching.
I used to dread the coming of the dark. And in many ways, I still do: the shift of the world towards fall fills me with an inchoate but undeniable sorrow. Fall and early winter is a season of endings, there is no question about that. But in the last several years I’ve been more comfortable with the deep dark of December. I still find January and February long and dreary, but December no longer depresses me. I suspect that this change has to do with my profound embrace of darkness in all its forms. It took me many years to figure out a truth I know now is unassailably true: without the darkness the light is meaningless. When I write it like that it feels so trite, so cliched, but the truth is this learning has undeniably changed the way I exist in the world.
As the planet turns towards the darkest months I start to notice nests in the trees’ bare branches and the sky turns an almost unbearably crystalline blue. I’m sure it’s no accident that Sunday, the first day after we fall back and enter the season of the shortest days, the light had a clarity that made my heart ache. I sat on a bench at the park, listening to my children laugh on the swings, and my eyes were drawn up, up, up to the boundless blue. I can’t put words around the quality of that morning’s light, but it nudged something free in me, something jagged and sad but also deeply, profoundly glad.
That afternoon, as I sensed the day drawing itself towards dusk, I kept hearing in my head it is the evening of the day. As Tears Go By floated through my thoughts, over and over again. It is the evening of the year, it is the season of gloaming, and we plunge again towards darkness. But my God, how unspeakably, outrageously beautiful is the light, even in this dark month. For the first time in my life I see that that those two facts are not coincidence, but profoundly interfused.
My relatively new comfort with the year’s darkest days gives me a deep sense of optimism. I understand, finally, that my life’s richest meaning exists in the shadows on the border between light and dark. Maybe, also, I have begun to trust on a cellular level that the world will always turn back towards the light.
The photograph is of dusk on December 21, 2011, on the road between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. It felt meaningful that we landed in Israel on the solstice, and emerged from the airport to this startlingly beautiful sunset. As the children slept on either side of me in the back of the taxi, I frantically took pictures out the window with my iPhone, wiping away tears so that I could see. We landed in the holy land on my holiest day, and the sky certainly cooperated to mark the occasion.
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