Today marks the solstice: the shortest, darkest day in what has felt like the longest, darkest year. There’s something comforting about a nadir, isn’t there? Our emotions are parabolic. We know that from rock bottom the path curves up again. (As J.K. Rowling once said of the days before Harry Potter, when she struggled with poverty and depression, “Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”) I usually find a joyful anticipation in the days before the solstice. No need to rage against the darkness anymore. Surrender for a few days. The world will lighten up on its own.
Yet this year it feels like we have swung out of orbit. Aleppo. Germany. Turkey. The Syrian refugee crisis. Yemen. Neo-Nazism. And a thousand everyday tragedies bumped from the headlines by the ever-widening spiral of violence — violence in actions, thoughts, words. Careering off course, we find around us new and unfamiliar degrees of darkness. We keep waiting for the normal centers of gravity to pull us back in. We keep waiting for the flattening of the curve that suggests we have spun to the outer limit, and the world will bend towards peace, towards light.
At the extremes, our sense of light is absolute. A sunny day is a sunny day is a sunny day. So is a moonless night. But most of the time, it’s relative. Have you ever sat engrossed in a book while the sun went down? Eventually someone walks into the room to find you in a dim corner squinting over shadowy pages. “You need some light,” they say, tsk-tsking as they flick on a switch and you recoil like a vampire. (This was a good portion of my childhood.) Rumors began circulating a few days ago that there was to be a lunar eclipse last night, making it the darkest night in 500 years. It was a hoax, and a tired one, but perhaps there was something seductive in the idea that this solstice wouldn’t just be the longest, darkest night of the year, but a deep, inky, bituminous hole of a night, against which the perfectly normal day would seem radiant. As if the way to find more light were to plunge deeper into darkness.
We need more light in our lives. No matter that the days are getting longer now. There are still dark hours to come, and we need to be able to see clearly. While researching the book I discovered that most of us get only a small fraction of the light we need every day. What’s worse, most of us do not realize we need light at all. More to come on this subject, but really, for your health, you should probably get a few more lamps.
Many of the lights in our lives have functional importance. The desk lamp illuminates our work. The light over the range helps us see when the stew is ready. The closet light — well, we wouldn’t want to try getting dressed without that one. But neon doesn’t really have a job. It’s pure joy. Perhaps that’s why I’m so drawn to these Sabine Marcelis sculptures, from her Voie light series. They seem like celestial phenomena brought down to Earth. They are a little bit magical, like a light saber you can hang on your wall. (It all eventually comes back to Star Wars, doesn’t it?)
Neon seems somehow like the right kind of light for dark times. Pure glowing color: both lighting and art at the same time. It may not chase away the darkness, even brightening one shadow seems worthwhile right now.