Monday, November 3, 2014

A Month of Thanksgivings: Darkness and Light


With the change from daylight savings time to standard time comes a renewed awareness of light and dark. Such an artificial rearrangement of daylight hours means eating dinner in the dark and taking children to school as the sun rises, a disconcerting and unbalancing shift from dinner as the sun sets and watching the children move through pools of electric light and utter dark toward the school doors.

This morning, I forgot my sunglasses and was grateful for the wispy clouds that blocked just enough of the sunrise as I headed east away from the schools, toward home. I've not needed my sunglasses for our early morning commute since late September, and just one month is enough to build a habit of leaving them at home.

Darkness or light that appears when it shouldn't unsettles us in some primordial way, tapping into those primitive circadian rhythms that chart their way best through slow, gradual changes, barely noticeable from day to day as the earth wobbles gently and regularly on its axis. If it weren't for clocks, would we even notice the change?

Nature may be red in tooth and claw, but in this seasonal dance, she seems rather gentle and kind.

What happens when unnatural darkness enters our lives uninvited and violent? Several friends have been dealing with darkness forced on them by others for the past month, and that got me thinking. My own unpleasant history with the darkness has been dredged up from the depths and swirled around in my mind. It's not depressing, exactly, just sort of a sobering reminder that there's still work to do.

Mary Oliver's verse hits home. It takes years, perhaps a lifetime, to adjust one's thinking after being given a box full of darkness. It also takes effort, and not everyone puts in the hard work of distilling gratitude out of demons.

I've worked long and hard at the distillation process, pouring my bitterness and anger and hurt into the still, and most days I'm able to drink deeply and maintain a buzz of optimistic gratitude. Occasionally, however, the still produces barely a trickle. Strange things--an old song or random phrase or smell or memory--will reveal some bit of darkness hiding in my soul that needs rooting out, pouring out.

And the process of letting go of the demons starts over again.

It gets easier with practice. I've grown confident over the years in this process and learned that holding on hurts me far more than it hurts the demons.

That's one reason why Thanksgiving is such a vital and important holiday for me. It's my annual reminder that we get out of life the effort we put into it. Of all the things I've worked for in life, my attitude of gratitude has borne the most fruit. It's the thing I most want to share with other people, to encourage them in the belief that the surest path of healing is to accept the darkness and turn it into a gift in their own lives. The resulting gratitude fills us up so much that we just have to share it with others.

You can't rush that transformation, though. It takes time and patience and perseverance to see the demons as a gift. That level of gratitude requires commitment for the long haul of life and trust in the process. But it is worth it.

No matter what the clock says, days lengthen and shorten in a dependable, wobbly process of planetary scale. We might get thrown off balance in our perception of it, but we adjust, remember our sunglasses, and drive home heading east into sunrise.

And that's a comforting thought.

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