By Lindsay McKay
Growing up in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, my family and I almost always had a “sad light.” Seasonal Affective Disorder plagues especially the women in my family. So, each morning as the five of us stumbled and grumbled around the house getting ready for school/work, we each spent some time sitting in the living room, watching the morning news, with the sad light blazing beside us. This artificial light always seemed dark to me, in a way. Its feeble attempt at mimicking the sun was almost always unsuccessful.
When I was a child, like so many others, I was afraid of the dark. I have studied literature, philosophy and religions from all over the world and one thing remains common, from what I have seen. Society, both ancient and contemporary, has figured darkness as something negative, lacking, void of life and something deserving to be feared. Monsters are only under your bed at bedtime, ghosts and ghouls become active at night, mysterious and formidable creatures dwell in dark forests and so on. Television shows, movies, and even series of books play on this fear that seems to be quite common to, well…humans. We are taught to fear the dark and fear it I did and sometimes still do. Darkness is the enemy and our paltry attempts to combat it seem almost laughable in comparison to its steadfastness.
As it happens, these last few weeks, I have been preparing to teach a university English class about Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. The story is complex and I daresay capable of shedding some much-needed light on contemporary society’s most devilish darknesses, but those things are not the subjects of this blog. While I was preparing for the class and thinking about how very appropriate—serendipitous, even—it was for me to be working on this post while preparing for that class, I began to imagine myself going on a metaphorical “pilgrimage”. Not for ivory as the characters in Conrad’s book do, not for God, but for things that thrive in darkness. What would that look like? What if I sought out the things that live in darkness instead of running from them? Something about that thought seemed sideways, maybe even perverse, but I went with it anyway.
The conclusion that I am beginning to draw is that darkness is necessary and even helpful. To be sure, it can be harmful, madness inducing, and altogether tiring, but it can also be beautiful. Many quietly wonderful things happen in darkness: rest and restoration, the incubation of seeds deep in the earth, northern lights paint the sky and stars speckle the endless night. These things do not boast; they just are. They remind me of thoughtful caring—of love. The beauty of darkness is not triumphant; it is quiet. It seeps; it does not rush. It envelops; it does not strangle. It loves; it does not hurt. I look forward to this journey that I’m on—my pilgrimage toward a new kind of love—a journey that will slowly change my relationship with darkness, night by night and step by step.