A long time ago, I used to love night-walking the streets of the New England town where I lived. These were wandering years, 20-something, learning-to-pay-the-bills-years. Drafty apartment, year-long lease years, when most of what I owned fit in the back of a blue Toyota station wagon. I’d been living away from the comfy mid-western home I’d grown up in and was struggling to figure out what home meant to me. I didn’t know it then, but in retrospect, I’m certain I roamed the dim lamp-lit streets of that Connecticut river valley town in search of a life that felt like what could be mine at a time I simply had no idea where I was headed. This searching impulse overrode much of the common sense of the time that warned young women against walking alone in darkness anywhere.
Victorian house after house beckoned from the sidewalk. I’d peer into warmly lit interiors for country farmhouse tables, shabby chic arm chairs, upright pianos, and the humans who played them. Occasionally, I’d see a family in animated dinner conversation, an old couple at rest in the blue tv screen light, or a teenager–just a few years younger than I was at the time, but still so young, illuminated by a reading light, encircled in the hug of what I presumed to be her favorite chair in a wood-paneled nook. I imagined her solidly planted. At the same time, I granted she could be yearning for escape just as I had been not many years before.
I didn’t own a tv, so those night time walks were my entertainment, my mediation, as well as good exercise. At the time, I worked long days helping people live more independent lives after years lived in state institutions. I spent a good deal of the daylight hours in places most people would consider dingy, sometimes dangerous, if not catastrophically depressing. As the “light seeker” I suppose I was, I looked for what was wonderful-in human imperfection and in the complex world people who’d lived most of their lives shut away from were learning to negotiate. Then, under cover of darkness, I walked nights trying to sort out the murkiness inside of me: who was I and what mattered enough to me to support a light I sought to manifest in the world? I took unapologetic comfort in what I saw illuminated in the darkness: laughing faces around a table, a cello in a corner, a comfy chair and a good book to read—simple pleasures that came to mean much more to me as I lived in the world and provided an antidote to many grey days.
To this day, I carry the exquisite tug of the ways light and dark play with and serve one another. Even all these years later I continue to enjoy walking in darkness. This, for me, feels enveloping and protected. I am forever drawn to the light behind the windows of strangers.
The winter solstice is nearly upon us. The long nights will be getting shorter and the light will return. I’d like to celebrate the complexity, the paradox, the dance of light and dark in our lives and in this world. Each is necessary to bring clarity to the other. Enjoy the season. I bring you tidings of comfort and joy!
BLR for the Poplar Grove Muse