Monday, December 19, 2011

Not All Sweetness and Light

I don’t remember a year in which I’ve been so acutely aware of bright afternoon sunlight as sheer, fleeting gift in late December; nor one in which falling darkness has felt so absolute. I’m trying to sort out how much geography accounts for my heightened awareness: I’ve never before spent a whole winter on eastern Long Island, so close to the leading edge of the time zone that night falls before 5 p.m. The light slants down with a clarity that’s almost a cliché; but the grey of an overcast winter day here somehow sucks the light out of even a well-lit room.

Reminders of mortality all around me account for a lot of what geography can’t explain: a spectacularly gifted friend whom I much admired, dead in November long before his time; another, deeply beloved, with whom I share nearly twenty years of intimate, varied connection, now newly battling an aggressive recurrence of cancer; a third I’ve come to know this last year and a half, now living with a recent diagnosis of lymphoma. All of them, my age or younger. I find myself noticing every ache and pain, and thinking to myself, what kind of cancer could I get?

Hanukkah begins tomorrow at sundown; Thursday (if you’re being astronomically exact about it) comes the Solstice; and Christmas lights are everywhere. I’ve always loved this season—loved it for the poignant bravery of light kindled in darkness. This year, I find myself looking for the lesson somewhere in the darkness itself. In the silence, in the not knowing, in the nothingness that the light shines out of. In giving the darkness its due, before moving too quickly into the attempts to lighten it.

Kevin Smith, in an eloquent and wise and funny post to his TouchPractice blog just a few days ago, wrote this: “Here’s a holiday wish: embrace your bleakest self, the shadow self. That side that you’re NOT listing on your resume these days. The photos that you’re NOT posting. Just look at it. Acknowledge it. And lest you fear that doing so in some way might grant the part of yourself that you’re not thrilled with some sort of permanence, consider that nothing gets granted permanence, neither the things we love about ourselves nor our biggest disappointments.” (

I have no idea what I’ll find over the next days, but I know where I need to look for it: wrapped up against the cold, listening to the surf crash, on a beach where perhaps I’ll see stars in the night sky, or perhaps, huddled below cloud, see almost nothing at all.

And then, yes—but only at last—kindle a light.

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