Darkness

The nights are getting longer and longer and, in many ways, the world seems to grow darker and darker. It’s cheering to see the Christmas lights celebrating the year and it’s good to know that as of Wednesday the days will be getting a little bit longer each day, although at first the brightening will be almost imperceptible.

Maybe that’s the way it is with all the bleak things we’re experiencing. It takes a while for us to notice little improvements that may be taking place.

Last month, a very thoughtful friend gave me three paperwhite bulbs resting on pebbles and water in a tall glass vase. These white narcissus (Narcissus papyraceus) can grow well indoors and they produce lovely white blossoms that are very fragrant and are a popular Christmas flower. Some say that paperwhites are a symbol of hope and happiness.

I’d love to have them bloom for Christmas, but they’ve been slow to develop. Two of the bulbs now have shoots about an inch high but one hasn’t shown any sign of green. Maybe it will still produce something, maybe not. In any case, they will be slow and I can’t expect flowers for Christmas.

That’s like how all of Christmas is evolving this year. Because of the surge of the Omicron virus, I won’t see all the family I usually see. I’m not dropping over to see friends for gatherings; there won’t be any carol singsongs and I’m not having anyone but my immediate family into my home. I’ve put up a few decorations, but it is mostly just for my own enjoyment and, without visitors, they’re less enjoyable.

Some of the things I’d hoped for this season just won’t happen now, but, like the paperwhites, they’ll likely arrive at some point. And, meanwhile, if I pay attention I may find some surprising developments all around that will offer hope.               

The world feels dark, but I’m thinking of the coming light and also thinking about a poem by Wendell Berry called O Know the Dark which speaks to the possibility that we might learn from the darkness:

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.

To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,

and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,

and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.

Sometimes we have to face the dark. It helps to know that, just as in the ground beneath our feet there is always life and growth and evolution, there may be many positive developments elsewhere that we don’t yet see. We don’t see what we don’t see.

Although I don’t know when my paperwhites will bloom, I trust that, eventually, slowly, slowly, the green sprouts will shoot up. And slowly, slowly, the days will grow longer.

I have no idea what’s ahead, but today I’m going to go into the dark and try to find what’s blooming and singing there.

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