The days are getting lighter.
It’s the eve of summer. The days are stretching. The nights are compressing. More light.
From as far as I can remember I have always loved light. Is there a more powerful image than light? Light conquering darkness. Light falling through a window. Lanterns twinkling in the night. I’ve written about light here and here and here and here. You can never write too much about light!
Lately on these dusky mild evenings I’ve been re-watching my favourite TV show of all time, Northern Exposure. From start to finish, all six seasons, savouring every detail of every episode. It’s a comforting ritual. Ah, that beautiful dreamy make-believe town of Cicely, Alaska. I’ve always known it was good (so good!), but it gets even better with time.
The other night I came across an episode called Northern Lights. It moved me more than I can even describe. You know that rare moment when you’re transported from your armchair into another world? Where your heart soars and your body shivers from goosebumps because that’s just how fine a moment it is?
The episode centres around the shortest and darkest day of the year. And yet the theme is light. The characters all find their way out of their own darkness – in their gentle and eccentric ways. In particular the town’s DJ philosopher, Chris Stevens, struggles to find inspiration for his annual sculpture. He realises the essential detail lacking all along was light.
What follows is magical. In the freezing snowy dark, the town gathers for the unveiling of Chris’s sculpture. First he delivers a speech to end all his grand speeches. He references Dylan Thomas, John Henry Newman, The Pillar of the Cloud, the Psalms, Isaiah. It’s sublime. The words are like morphine for my poetic heart:
“Goethe’s final words: “More Light”. Ever since we crawled out of that primordial slime, that’s been our unifying cry: more light! Sunlight, torchlight, candlelight, neon, incandescent… Lights to banish the darkness from our caves, to illuminate our roads, the insides of our refrigerators. Big floods for the night games at Soldier’s Field. Little tiny flashlight for the books we read under the covers when we’re supposed to be asleep.
Light is more than watts and foot-candles, light is metaphor. Thy word is a lamp unto my feet. Rage, rage against the dying of the light! Lead, kindly light, amid the encircling gloom, lead thou me on. The night is dark and I am far from home, lead thou me on. Arise, shine for thy light has come. Light is knowledge. Light is life. Light is light.”
Light switches are turned on, one by one. The sculpture is a random collection of lights from all over the town, whimsically draped together to form a shimmering sea of bulbs across the backdrop of the main street. As each switch is turned on, the music – Enya’s ‘Ebudae’ – beats like warm floating blasts of fire into the cold air.