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Chasing Light

I spend my life chasing light. The way it falls, the luminous petal of it floating on a moonless night. I love the sodden glimmer in a purple sky, the circle of light on a dark street, the lamp on your desk through the window at dusk. So many shades of light, so many textures and shapes of it; contained, concentrated, diffuse, every other cell in the air.

Even on an unremarkable day light changes so many times you could stop what you’re doing and be immediately swept up in its relentless display. Right now it moves from brash to shy, to secretive, to sly, like something hidden in the back of a top drawer that you only find when the life that put it there is gone.

Light is playing so many tricks on us all the time, a silent string instrument with fine, invisible threads attached to our vulnerable puppet hearts.

Light dances dappled around us all the time, even when we are too grown up and serious to pay it any attention. It plays across our books and computers and in through the window at 30,000 feet so you can curl up in it as you stare down at a pure white world of cloud.

I love light especially before it becomes a metaphor, before it’s a literary thing manipulated to make the mind glad. Light knows it dances, plays, hides and beckons with no need of words to make it so.

Alone it colors the world, shines like an omniscient conductor, orchestrating the full spectrum of emotion, conscious and subconscious. Even its absence longs for light. Especially dark, knowing it needs light to exist.

Watch its restless direction of everything we see, never still, releasing a little more, pulling back in. This alone makes waking up worth it, explains morning. This same place where dark was, illuminated. Light plays with us mercilessly. In its brash presence we are revealed, frayed and defenseless, fraught with lifetimes of care, even as the allure of candle light turns us into symbols of something soft and beautiful.

Light gives itself to everything it touches, so pervasive and brazen, yet subtle, it seems to be coming from everywhere, and nowhere. Scientists try to own it with wave, particle and amplitude but it belongs to no-one. On the trip from a distant, fiery planet, to where it somersaults onto your living room floor surprised, it passes through so much fathomless darkness. Light shapes, exposes, divulges and withholds. We are crazed with a longing for it when there is something we need, but cannot see.

But sound too, layers of it. Even silence has a sound. Stillness yields an audible vibration. Everything makes sound and nothing does too. Listen to the sound the transparent membranes of a single leaf make when the invisible air catches them. Hear voices float free up a mountain leaving the weight of toiling bodies in their wake, rising and floating heedlessly, playing on this invisible air, teasing us to turn our heads, swivel our ears, like deer in the whisper of long grass.

Sound beckons and pushes us away, picks our feet up and dances us, places familiar hands on our intimate hips to open them to a forward swing and sway.

Sound dissolves the edges of us, shines a light on the heart of our brain, swirling recklessly past the spreadsheets of our intellect. Sound picks us up and throws us down, creeps across our fingers on the keyboards of our concentration and makes us weep and wail in sealed up cars at stoplights.

Sound wraps itself around two people alone, like a shameless satin pink heart. It opens our legs and arms, lifts us up to protest down long road rivers singing, arms up, fists clenched.

Smell is another intangible, traveling constant and reliable on invisible air, traveling carefully, stepping aside, to avoid colliding with light and sound. Smell arrives in us on waves of something we cannot see, awakening memories of before we were alive this time, and the time before and the time before that.

Smell owns our history, our story. It has walked barefoot across desert plains, escaped heavy folds of long skirts, caked with mud, on medieval streets. Smell has risen from the damp floors of caves, the warm footprint of something wild and silent, the sizzle of cast iron pots. It moves into us without asking permission, like we were a house straddling time. It sings in us like an old, old song.

How do we swim in all of this and give up everything to the soulless click clack of our grizzled minds, suffocating in a careful tin box of calculated remedies for moments that are not now?

All of these senses are this body’s gift to us, an instrument so delicate, so fine, it could make you weep, or dance, or both. It’s power eclipses ours, commands a surrender, takes no prisoners. So we develop ways to pretend escape, to pretend we run this show. We pay no attention. We think we can do more when we are less vulnerable. Do more what? Exactly what and who can afford to ignore the limitless strands of this extraordinary power?


If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. 

George Eliot



I live in hazard and infinity. The cosmos stretches around me, meadow on meadow of galaxies, reach on reach of dark space, steppes of stars, oceanic darkness and light. There is no amenable god in it, no particular concern or particular mercy. Yet everywhere I see a living balance, a rippling of tension, an enormous yet mysterious simplicity, an endless breathing of light. And I comprehend that being is understanding that I must exist in hazard but that the whole is not in hazard. Seeing and knowing this is being conscious; accepting it is being human.

John Fowles, Aristos


“To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never to forget.”

Arundhati Roy

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