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On Light

December 24, 2015

Sofi: How many senses do worms have?


Ian: They have two. Smell and touch. Why?


Sofi: So... they live without any ability to see or even know about light, right? The notion of light to them is unimaginable.


Ian: Yeah.


Sofi: But we humans... we know that light exists. All around them... right on top of them...


- I Origins (2014)



Light is the origin of all energy on earth. One way or another, all species depend on it to survive, though not all evolved to see it. We are among the lucky ones that did. The human eye originated from a simple light-sensitive spot on the skin of one of our ancestors. The patch turned into a pit, the pit into an opening, and through the aperture streamed in the rays that formed the first images on our retina.


It was – the ultimate oxymoron - an evolutionary miracle. Light changed our world. Through one of the most complex and beautiful biological constructions – an iris perfectly calibrated to adjust the amount of entering light, a lens perfectly positioned to focus its rays - we came to see colors, shapes, gradients, landscapes. Ourselves, one another, beautiful things. Worms can live and die content, in the dirt, underground. But once we had seen the stars, we could not go back to the dark.


It is early morning on the 24th of December. Tonight, there will be kids jingle belling and much mistletoeing. Parties for hosting, marshmallows (or chestnuts) for toasting, and caroling out in the snow. Lights at windows, on garlands and trees, lining the streets and decorating homes and stores. It’s the most wonderful time of the year.


And paradoxically, the darkest. When the sun sets tonight, somewhere beyond the toasty fireplaces, many people will be cold. Somewhere beyond the goose dinners and champagne, many will be hungry. And somewhere beyond the festive lights, in rural villages, city slums, detention centers, bomb shelters, and overcrowded refugee camps along closed off borders, 1.3 billion people will find themselves in literal, utter dark.


Tonight some will make wishes for the new year. Many more will only pray to last this one.


Yes, it has been all sorts of dark lately. Racial crimes and hate crimes, air raids and house raids, carbon dioxide emissions, floodings, shootings, bombings, and hateful, fearful words, have turned many blind and cold. Trudging on like worms in a tunnel, content with getting through the day. I cannot blame them; most days I am as tired as they.


Not tonight though. Somehow, not tonight.


Tonight, some people will burn Yule logs and light the fourth candle of Advent. Some will light the eighth candle of the menorah. Others, the clay oil lamps of Diwali. In the Philippines, some will light star lanterns. In China and Holland, paper ones. In Thailand, they will launch thousands of candles in banana leaf boats. In Guatemala and Mexico, carry them in processions. In Sweden, some girls will wear them on their head in crowns. Tonight I want to be one of them.


Tonight, I want to be a streetlamp lighter. A lighthouse guardian. A landing signal officer. A fireplace stoker. A candlestick maker. Heck, a light bulb changer. I want to light a twinkling tree, and set it by the window for people in the street to see.


Tonight I want to join those who did not go blind and cold. Those who stayed soft.* Who did not let the world make them hard, did not let the pain make them hate. Who did not let the bitterness of living steal their sweetness. Those brave and wonderful souls who refuse to live without light, refuse to live in the dark. Those who take pride that, even though the rest of the world may disagree, they still believe it to be a beautiful place.


It may not have been the most wonderful time of the year. But tonight, just tonight; no matter how dark the world has gotten and will get; no matter what you believe, or do not; tonight, just tonight, let us see light.




* The original quote by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. reads: 'Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.'

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