Sunday, November 08, 2009

The Quality of Light

by Zinta Aistars

Light: does it exist? We don’t really see the light, after all, only its reflection. The gleam on a polished car, the brightening of the room upon drawing back the curtains, the rising joy in a lover’s eyes when we say those sweetest words, the light in our own eyes marking them as truth. The clouds parting to release a golden shaft that ties heaven to earth, dust swirling in honeyed air, and the path through the dark woods that is suddenly bright with guidance. A holy light.

The light, I realize, is something we accept mostly on faith. We see its result. We see where it lands. We can even glance for a moment, eyes squinting near shut, at its source high in the sky, that burning globe of fire around which we all orbit as if in worship—but even that sight, that shimmering and heated, near unbearable light, is but the reflection of the sun’s flaming surface.

I wonder what so draws us to the light. Why it so gladdens our dark hearts? On a morning just a few mornings ago, I drove north to work, the highway stretching out in a straight line through southwestern Michigan farmland either side. A few dairy farms midway, a tree farm, an occasional blink of a farmland community in quick passing. The sky overhead was low and heavy, a fast graying and billowing blue, like an ocean above us rather than below, and we submerged creatures swimming in the depths. It pressed the earth down as if with a flat blue palm. Dark clouds bellied out and rippled like waves overhead.

And then, the sun rose. The heavy sky would not recede, would not give the sun its passage, but such insistent light cannot be held back. Between low and heavy heaven overhead and the autumn pale yellow fields below, light flooded into the space between. It was tinted a pale peach, and it reflected as gold on the land to either side of the highway, now a path of coppery pavement leading me to my destination.

My heart swelled to near bursting, and I couldn’t say why. The light, oh the light …

Even captured like this, between the heavy and the solid, it caused some caught part of me to slip free. I wanted to step out into it, into the light, lift my face toward it, hold out two empty hands, palm up, to be filled. I wanted to stand in its glow, bathe in it, raise my mouth to be kissed by it, be submerged and finally to drown in it, lost forever to the light.

Walk into the light, they say, when we die. See the light, it is freedom, the endless and infinite, the promise.

My faith is weak, a spattering and oozing thing that sometimes fills the cracks but fails to become substance—that rock upon which we should stand. I stand, instead, on light. Here now, then gone, yet come again.

The light reflects on something we never really see, hinting of a place we can never know. It is the reflection of hope. This thing we cannot hold, caught between a heavy and billowing sky and the moving island on which we stand, that keeps us from floating away without ever really touching us at all.

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