39: “Darkness” (N. K. Jemisin)

“Take away darkness and there is only more darkness. Darkness can exist by itself. Light cannot.” -N. K. Jemisin, The Broken Kingdoms

                In her Inheritance trilogy, Jemisin dares to imagines a deity of the night. I won’t say that much more about this god: the books do that. But he/she is dynamic, inspiring, and so much fun to read about, and he/she has me thinking. If we opened up to the night, what would we find?
                Maybe the dark isn’t a bad thing. Maybe it isn’t evil, as we’ve so often said. (The Dark Lord in Tolkien, the ‘forces of darkness’ in all sorts of things, the ‘dark side’ in Star Wars; and on and on). When I was little, and scared of the dark, I would clutch for a lamp. Light would go out streaming, bouncing off the walls, the windows; showing me what was there–or part of what was there. At night, with a lamp on, windows are mirrors: they gave me back myself, a scared little child, and, having clutched for the light once, I soon became scared again. And again.
                Light shows the surface of things. Sight is our most controlled sense, and we’ve come to use it the most: I can close my eyes, turn my head, choose what to look at and what to ignore. Ears work differently–we’re always listening. Touch works differently. Perhaps that’s why, hungry for control, we’ve become seeing creatures.
                Looking this way, I can focus on these words, make out the small distinctions in the letters; but behind me, outside, I can hear the wind blowing. I can hear my housemate in another room, turning a page in his book. Our sight makes a bright world, but it makes part of a world; we choose it, and it makes our world. It sees the surfaces of things. It does that clearly. But at night, when we’re afraid, it makes the windows that should let us see outside into mirrors that show only ourselves. And if we only see ourselves, we only see part of ourselves: roots need earth to be what they are for more than a quick, withering moment. I am who I am because of you, because of the world.
                Perhaps the dark was never evil. Here, shh, child, the child who I was (and am): you don’t need to be afraid. Here, in the dark, here we have our thoughts growing. Here we have sounds we cannot understand, because they speak to mysteries of which we are a small part. Here is a place of resting and becoming. It is a peaceful place, this night. It is good to not know everything. It is good to have the world wrap its arms around you and hold you close, as close as pitch black when your eyes are open.
                It is good to close your eyes, sometimes, when you kiss. And the world’s kissing you. Mother, daughter, son, brother. The dark is kind, it is the place of more than me, more than my choice. All that you are comes from here, and blends with here. This is the place, not of distinctions, but of unities–the place where lamp and table, book and letter, I and other flow together. It is good. Be here. In the light we see what is: in the light we work. In the dark is all that is and ever was: endless opportunity: endless grace. Yes, in other places, in daylight, I am not you, and wall is not door is not shadow. But in this place, all is one.
                What do we find in the darkness? With the lamp off, the window is still a window. We can see outside. Look, there are stars here, and deep dark clouds that lay like blankets, keeping us warm, bringing rains–rain that falls unseen, bringing life.
                Our thoughts are like rain. It’s easy to let yourself reach up into them, like a mountain–and then they easily go running off, down past you in streams. You can also be the valley, where waters gather and trees grow. Where moments deepen into pools, helped by gravity itself, by the weight of the world. And the valleys are darker.

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