A Midnight Clear: Shining Light in the DarknessCulture
Dec 21, 2016
By: Brooks Chaplain Bernie Jorn
Today is December 21, the day of the winter solstice. At this moment, the Earth’s position in orbit places the Northern Hemisphere at its greatest angle away from the sun. The result is that today we will receive the least amount of sunlight than any other, and tonight will be the longest night of the year (nearly 14 hours here in Florida). So, “in light of this”, perhaps we should investigate this darkness.
Throughout history, darkness has been perceived as a place of danger and foreboding. It embodies the unknown, where our deepest instinct warns us to be wary of unseen dangers. In darkness, our imaginations mold fears into reality, as rustling leaves and creaking floorboards become the makings of something menacing. It is no wonder that children, with the greatest of imaginations, are often afraid of the dark and those things that “go bump in the night.” As Poe put it in The Raven, “Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, doubting, fearing, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.”
Our terminologies reflect this fear as well: keeping someone in the dark, having a dark purpose, the dark ages, the dark side of the force, and so on. And yet, when a scared child calls us to their bedside at night, their fear is often not of the dark, but of being in the dark alone. Go to their side and you will learn that your watchful presence in that scary place brings peace. The darkness loses its power, becoming a safe place for the gift of imagination. I remember one such night as a pediatric chaplain, sitting with a scared child in a room filled with beeping monitors. We imagined ourselves into a grand park, filled with rides, happy sounds, and free ice cream. Then the darkness became a door to a healing place.
Another blessing of darkness is in how it opens our eyes to the greatness normally outshined by the light. You know this if you are a star-gazer. There is a difference between the night sky of the city and that of the country. Historically, travelers have found comfort through these same stars that guided them at night. From mariners on endless seas to nomads crossing open desserts, the greatest gift was a clear sky that unveiled the map of stars above.
Taking this into the metaphorical, it may not be until we experience our own personal darkness- the wandering through fears and unknowns in life – that we discover our hidden reserves of strength and light. We find such people as they first come to Brooks. Life has changed—health has turned to illness, freedom to dependence, and simply put, peace into chaos. But our staff has always been quick to the bedside of someone in need. As Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wrote, “People are like stained glass windows. When the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed by the light that shines out from within.” For those wandering through the fears and uncertainties that come with illness and injury, we must help them discover the light within. If you are blessed as I am to meet with such a person, sit with them and help turn their fear into hope. There are so many wonderful things in life still to be discovered.
The light will soon be gone today, and we enter into those 14 hours without it. Be safe as you make your way home, and if you can, sit outside in the darkness and look at the stars—I plan to myself, perhaps with my wife or one of my daughters. If you do, may you feel the quiet and take in the peaceful stillness. The light of the holidays will come soon enough, but tonight will be filled with promise and adventures of the dark. Have fun and enjoy it!