Deep down, perhaps somewhere within the very code of our human existence, exists something that unnerves and perhaps embarrasses us, even now.
Children, in their open-minded and -hearted ways, express it so naturally, as if the elephant really is in the room, instead of trying to hide it away in a closet or tuck it under the bed, pretending (adults are better at this than children) to ignore it altogether.
The dark just on the other side of the light scares us.
And naturally so.
Early on in our existence, there were things out there in the dark, things we couldn’t see. And because we couldn’t see them, they might have easily eaten us. Our fear of the dark saved us.
Being afraid of the dark definitely had its evolutionary advantages. But what about our man-made modern life, so chock full of lights?
Yes, there are still things out there in the dark, things that prey upon us, but statistics show that these things (so-called humans) are just as predatory, though no more prevalent, whether they lurk in the light of day or under the cover of darkness.
And still, in parts of the world where humans live right alongside the wild, they’re seen and smelled and sensed as fair game, simply human prey. Humans continue to batten down the latches and hunker down safe and sound at night.
Yet some of us are so far removed from our own nature, we can scarcely sense natural dangers when they’re real and present, like time I hiked to the top of Old Greyback with a big group of friends (there’s safety in numbers, right?).
As we all descended back down in single-file order along a narrow switch-back trail, the last of our bunch stopped dead in his tracks, having noticed a tightly coiled up rattlesnake, a just-as-venomous snakelet. We’d all but one stepped right over it, and in broad PDT daylight.
Maybe it’s sometimes best not to see the forest for the trees, or the trail for the snakes.
Yet millennia since our earliest ascendants developed a sense in nature that helped them to survive, we continue to nurture a somewhat silly, modern-world sense of light versus dark duality analogy, that light is to dark what good is to evil.
On the first day, God separated light from darkness. The underworld is dark, save the burning fires of eternal damnation, while the heavens above are pure white light.
The Allegory of the Cave describes our miserable ignorance while imprisoned in the darkness of shadows, that our knowing and wisdom is illuminated only by the light, a soul’s journey toward truth.
Even the dark tunnel, described by those who’ve been declared only mostly dead, has a bright light at the end of it. It’s rumored to be so brilliantly beautiful, it’s a wonder these folks made it back alive.
We seem to live quite contentedly in our black and white dichotomy, the yin and the yang, the Dark Ages and the Age of Enlightenment, and the dark and light side of the Force.
I’ll admit it, love and its light are quite all right with me, but I think there’s a certain amount of wisdom in accepting what really lies just beyond the light, the unknown, this uncertainty in life. We work and play hard to stay in the light, the darker times certain to grow our souls as well.
Light does have its ups. We’re happy to be light-hearted and feel light as a feather. But being light-headed or blinded by the light isn’t so good. And sometimes the constant absorption, reflection, refraction and diffraction just makes us want to shut our eyes to the world, or at least wear dark shades.
And darkness certainly has it downs. We dread our moments of doom and gloom, the depths of our darkness. It was a dark and stormy night immediately sets us on edge. But a devil-may-care attitude while dimming the lights down low can be good fun. And where would we be without dark matter?
Darkness is simply the absence of light.
And it’s naturally good.
In our micro worlds, as our nights aglow with screen time of all sorts, we cut ourselves off from the good that darkness brings—downtime, a melatonin release for a good night’s sleep, a moon to keep us company on a long, lonely drive home at night, and the brilliance of billions of stars upon which to gaze.
Our brains and bodies need darkness much like they need sunshine. Humanity delights in the inventions that illuminate us from darkness, and rightly so. But their uses allow us to deprive ourselves of natural light. And we deprive ourselves of the very darkness needed to ward off the effects of the wonders of artificial light.
We’re still sort of in the dark when it comes to light.
And light pollution is beginning to wreak havoc on our natural world and, in turn, our place within it. Illuminating our half-dark world has become too much of a good thing.
“Darkness is as essential to our biological welfare, to our internal clockwork, as light itself. The regular oscillation of waking and sleep in our lives—one of our circadian rhythms—is nothing less than a biological expression of the regular oscillation of light on Earth. So fundamental are these rhythms to our being that altering them is like altering gravity.” —Verlyn Klinkenborg, National Geographic, November, 2008
There’s nothing in the dark that isn’t there in the light too, unscientifically speaking, of course. It’s not darkness we fear, but the unknown, the uncertainty that is life. Sometimes it’s simply the quiet downtime that darkness brings to us that we wave off with a flip of a switch.
I trust we’re illuminated enough to see the light when it comes to darkness, for our lives should be filled with just about equal parts of both.
How Light Works by William Harris and Craig Freudenrich, Ph.D.
Photo by Cheri Lucas Rowlands via Weekly Writing Challenge: 1,000 Words