Thank you to everyone who joined us for this session!
For this session, we read an excerpt from Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit, posted below.
Our prompt was: Write about light and darkness.
Twenty-two participants, at least two new people, from Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States were joined this evening not only by an excerpt from Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit, but also by our shared hope to see The Great Conjunction in the night sky. Only one person (in New York City) witnessed the “and” of Jupiter and Saturn; a person (on the west coast) still waited for nightfall.
In Solnit’s paragraph about celestial light as guides for moths and other insects and the disorientation and danger caused by candles and electric light bulbs, we noticed: the initial sentences gaining intensity in “strong sentences” cautioning humans about setting impossible goals, with hopes pinned only on arrival at some heaven or utopia that can lead to activist burnout and/or alienating others. We were reminded of Icarus’s wax wings and the Bruegel painting (which we looked at together in April, blog post here), of the mural “Everything the Light Touches” (which we looked at together in August, blog post here) and of the song “Blinded by the Light.” One sentence that drew us to it stated that, for moths, “to arrive is a calamity.” We wondered why moths have not adapted to light on earth and contemplated our own intentions and expectations regarding paths and destinations. We considered differing perspectives and beliefs: some look up and see “heaven” and others see the sky made of gases. In light of this evening’s Conjunction, one person said that scientists call “Jupiter and Saturn” that which her mother called “The Christmas Star.” Many were drawn to the conclusion that “aiming high is a goal, not a destination”, and a shared commitment to cherish – and learn from – each journey. We also reflected on the power of heavenly bodies, which we saw as physical planets and philosophical ideas: “just think,” one participant observed. “the moon can move the sea”.
Before writing about light and darkness, we looked at images of artifacts, which are part of earthly rituals, and a sliver of light and visible darkness in space. In the chat, individual reactions included:
“I feel small.”
“Stretch to climb out of darkness.”
“Wait without hope,” attributed to T.S. Eliot.
After writing for four minutes, we listened to four readers.
One first-person narration groped in the dark “arms outstretched” to feel the way before seeing a “golden orb” and feeling welcomed by its light. That reading prompted others to hear both uncertainty and certainty. Another listener was reminded of a climb on Mt. St. Helens–arms outstretched–and arriving at the solidness of a ladder. Another person wrote of seeing by a kitchen lamp and the light of her computer, of “big, bad corporate” technologists sitting together “without a specific goal” and ending up with Zoom, the unanticipated discovery that was allowing her to see the faces of others and feel connected to twenty-two souls. That reading reached us as “a performance piece.” A third reading contemplated truth and light, examining their meaning, admitting “This is hard” and asking “What is truth?” and wondering about the sources and direction of light shining on truth. The fourth reading made characters of light and dark, anthropomorphizing these properties as siblings–conjoined twins–taking turns, each offering the other rest when day turns to night and night turns to day.
We concluded the evening–and 2020’s Monday Evening Narrative Medicine VGS gatherings–with a PowerPoint slide wishing a wonderful, restful, healthy end to 2020 and fabulous beginning to 2021, until we Zoom again. Blessings and good will echoed in the chat.
Thank you everyone for nine months of reading and writing together.
Participants are warmly encouraged to share what you wrote below (“Leave a Reply”), to keep the conversation going here, bearing in mind that the blog of course is a public space where confidentiality is not assured.
Also, we would love to learn more about your experience of these sessions, so if you’re able, please take the time to fill out a follow-up survey of one to two quick questions!
Please join us for our next session Wednesday, December 23rd at 12pm EST. After that, we will be taking a brief break for the holiday season, with the hope that we will all be able to find time to celebrate, even if remotely, with family and friends, and enter the new year in health and safety. We will be recommencing with our virtual group sessions starting Monday January 11th at 6pm EST, with registration now open on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.
Moths and other nocturnal insects navigate by the moon and stars. Those heavenly bodies are useful for them to find their way, even though they never get far from the surface of the earth. But lightbulbs and candles send them astray; they fly into the heat or the flame and die. For these creatures, to arrive is a calamity. When activists mistake heaven for some goal at which they must arrive, rather than an idea to navigate Earth by, they burn themselves out, or they set up a totalitarian utopia in which others are burned in the flames. Don’t mistake a lightbulb for the moon, and don’t believe the moon is useless unless we land on it.