The longest night of the year has passed. I’m looking forward to warmer weather. And I don’t enjoy crawling out of bed in total darkness in the mornings.
But at the same time, I like the darkness of winter evenings. When I take my dog out for a walk, the stars glitter with a burnished brightness.
I prefer not to use a flashlight on those evening walks. Other than to make sure I don’t fall on the stairs, that is. Or to make sure cars can see me at the side of the road.
When a flashlight illumines a small pool of pavement, that’s all I see. I might as well wear blinders, the way horses used to.
In the rural area where I live, I’m blessed by darkness. I’d far rather walk wrapped in darkness than in the cold glare of urban streetlights. The darkness curls comfortably around me. It almost feels sacred.
I remember that seeds germinate in darkness. Plants spurt upwards during the night. In darkness, we sink into deep and healing sleep, sleep that knits the ravelled sleeve of care.
In the darkness, we read, a child was born who would change the world.
Of course, no one knew that at the time. No one ever does. Crowds did not gather outside a hut in the village of Qunu waiting for the first black president of South Africa to be born. No one expected a baby girl born in Albania to become Mother Teresa. And Christian tourists did not flock to Bethlehem (or wherever it was) to applaud the first wail from an infant who would be hailed as the saviour of the world.
The greatness came later. With it came the stories. And the social customs.
In a week or two, householders will switch off their Christmas lights. Although I enjoy the darkness, I shall be sorry to see them go. They don’t attempt to drive back the darkness—I see them, rather, as bright spirits dancing (as an old hymn put it) “amid the encircling gloom.”
“Night is when light is not taken for granted,” writes friend and blogger James Harbeck, describing those musical compositions called nocturnes. Nocturnal music. Nocturnes frequently feature a solo instrument—appropriate, since darkness is often when we find ourselves alone. The guests have gone, the nurses have gone off shift, the family sleeps.
It’s hardly surprising that people often die at night—when they’re finally left alone.
Nocturnes, Harbeck suggests, tend to be “quiet, moody compositions.” On a piano, the left hand typically plays broken chords— “the cords are broken, the bonds, the harmony.”
In our 20s, life may be a grand march or a rock concert. In our elder years, it’s more likely to be a haunting, bittersweet nocturne.
“Is a puzzlement,” Yul Brunner mused in The King and I. The days grow longer; but my days grow shorter. Although I hope for quite a few years yet, each day that passes means I have one day less.
In the clear and holy darkness, I can think these thoughts, and not feel threatened by them.