Tuesday, April 12, 2011


Will someone leave a light on, even just a little one? A crack in the bathroom door, or a nightlight over by the desk? Maybe push the curtain aside just a teeny bit so the diffused light of a streetlamp can filter in? It worried me; troubled me to the point of fixation as I anticipated sending my quiet, tenderhearted daughter off to the Mission Training Center. She would spend nearly three months learning Cantonese. With Strangers. In a strange place. Without being able to talk to us. Without much of anything familiar and comforting. Except God. (Silly me to think God might not be enough ) Still, I worried about the dark, and I prayed that there would be a little light for her. Ironic, really.

Our beautiful timid girl endured…no triumphed…in the MTC, then in Hong Kong, and in every subsequent situation and locale she encountered: conversing in a strange musical tongue with people from a more blunt and spare culture. It was good preparation for the service she gives now, teaching underprivileged sixth graders how to read in Houston Texas. She pushed through the dark.

Dark is a relative term. It is, in the visual sense, dependant on the situation. At night, when Dave has gone to bed hours before me, coming into the study first and kissing me sweetly by the light of the computer screen, he slides the dimmer up on the table lamp on my side of the bed so I will be able to see when I come to bed. There’s a transom over our bedroom door, leading out to the hallway. The light from the hall generally spills into our bedroom and sometimes he forgets to turn on my lamp. When I tiptoe back to our bedroom after my nightly writing, and flip the light switch in the hall, it is pitch black in our room and my inferior feet cannot comfortably find their way through our space. I reach out my arms, my hands patting the lightless air, my feet shuffling painfully against the carpet. Lately I am comforted by knowing I can use the dim light of my iPhone when I go to bed. I don’t need a lot of light, just enough to indicate where not to step. I slide the dimmer higher on my lamp, just enough to reveal the words to the Guideposts or Readers Digest that ease me out of what I’ve been creating and into sleep. I don’t mind the dark when I’m sleeping, if I know my space.

Like just about everything, when dark approaches slowly and gradually, we adjust without realizing it. Leave it to a gentle God to make our earth spin evenly enough to allow for sunrises and sunsets, giving our eyes time to adjust, our feet energy enough to run home before dark. Imagine if He had decided to jerk the earth around, dropping us into darkness with no warning. Or just as bad, thrusting us into light so quickly our eyes feel like they’ll burst, unable to focus, unable to see anything really. I know the feeling well. Thick window blinds closed on a grey Pittsburgh day, a filmstrip mundanely clicks through a projector, a cassette recording reciting the geography of the Antarctic, or the scene of a Civil War battle, or the anatomy of a grasshopper; the recording methodically piercing my respite with a shrill ding indicating it’s time to advance the filmstrip. When the celluloid was rolled underneath the projector and the recording had ended, on went the fluorescent lights blanketing the ceiling of the classroom. Our eyebrows pushed the skin up to our hairlines, our heads instantly throbbing with the painful rush of light. Light, for all its divine attributes, sure can hurt.

Light can sting. Blind us even. But darkness is a long, dull ache. A frightening look into an abyss. Sometimes I close my eyes and pretend I am blind. I pretend so I can evaluate whether or not I think I have the internal strength to endure such a thing. I am always so, so grateful to open my eyes.

When I lost my sense of balance the Neurologist ran some tests, asking me to do some interesting things, or at lest attempt to do them. He asked me to stand on one foot, holding the other foot in the air beside it. I was able to do that with much effort. Then he asked me to close my eyes. As soon as I did, I fell over. He explained that when we lose one of our senses the others will compensate. But if we lose two, then our brains are confused and will not let us accomplish such a task as standing on one foot. “You cannot balance, having lost the sense of touch in your lower extremities, if you do not have visual contact with your feet or the space around you.” In this way he evaluated further evidence that I had indeed sustained damage to the sensory aspects of my legs. Blind people who cannot hear, like Helen Keller, are at a marked disadvantage to people whose only sensory loss is sight. We learn to compensate. So now I have to keep one eye slightly open when I’m standing and we bow our heads to pray, because I lose my balance in the darkness.

When I was little I remember thinking, down there in the basement art room in Pleasant Hills Elementary School, that when I scribbled all the colors in my crayon box over a piece of soft pale yellow art paper, the page turned dark. Black, I thought, was the accumulation of all colors. It took me growing up, covering my body with the purity of white robes and veils, to learn that it is white which contains all the colors of the rainbow. White, the purest reflector of light, represents the presence of all color. Light, indeed, is the palette of the heavens, from which are painted powder blue summer skies and verdant spring meadows splashed with golden daffodils; deep tangerine sunsets across the lake to the west; the bright red crown on a bold chested rooster. We are reminded of those colors in light when it rains and the air is filled with speckles of water reflecting the colors in the shape of a rainbow. We are surrounded by color and we don’t really know it, though I am sure somehow our spirits do.

I respect the dark. I don’t love it, but I respect it enough to not toy with it any more than I have to. There is no dark that the flickering of a small flame can’t seize, warming my fears and setting them in a peaceful place of calm.

Dark. Thick, massive, frightening dark. It would do me in, but for my trust that just one small flame is enough.

1 comment:

  1. When I was in college, I loved ranging around the city in the dark. For some reason, it didn't bother me - and I really, as I write this, am surprised. I guess I got over that the night I was followed down center street by a deeply malevolent presence, a man who caught sight of me - only around nine thirty at night, and then dogged me path from about twenty feet behind for blocks. I was headed for a place that would have been dangerous - I had to pass an empty block, only a park there, with big trees - and then make a long walk up a deserted drive.

    So I stopped and turned around and walked back, deliberately passing the man so I could look at him. Then I went up to a house and knocked on the door. The people who lived there were plagued with threatening calls for months after they'd called the police, who took both me and another girl who was passing, home.

    I think my favorite light is dawn. Spring and summer dawn.

    And I so remember those harsh lights coming on in school. They have a lot to learn about light there -