This year the gaity, excitement, and good-will still may be felt, but stronger are the fear and anger that circulate through our neighborhoods, penetrating each level of our society. How then am I to speak of light except in Pollyanna fashion, bolstering a pseudo-optimism, determined to see good in everything? However, this could not be further in my mind of what I hope to say about a light in this time of darkness.
But, first, I want to make clear what I mean by the phrase "a time of darkness." This time in which we are living is marked for the centuries that follow as a time of fear ruled by the tiniest of organisms, the COVID-19 virus. Smaller even than the bacteria in our bodies, they also have a claim to longevity, having occupied space on planet earth for millions of years. Nor do I need to tell you of their power to disrupt life for individuals and societies as they wield the specter of death for 1,000 people each day just within the United States. For this reason alone, I place the COVID-19 coronavirus at the front of the parade of fears at this time.
Along with fear, our time is also marked as a time of pervasive anger. On the one hand, given the fear and sadness of the pandemic that has killed 5 million people around the world, we might expect a bond among all of us to deal with such an unspeakable tragedy. But this is not the case. Even before the pandemic, in a poll conducted by NPR-1BM Watson Health, 84% of the people surveyed said Americans are angrier today than a generation ago. I refer to this poll to note that it is not just the ravages of our pandemic that prompt such anger that we see today. In a poll conducted by cnn.com on September 10, 2021, the headline says it all: "We're all just so damn angry." The hallowed halls of our nation's Capitol are stormed by mobs of angry and violent mobs, pushed on by political leaders who flaunt the highest disrespect not only for the legislators who had gathered to conduct business, but also for the chambers of the House of Representatives and the Senate. The traumatic rage assaulted not only some of the police officers attempting to perform their protective duty; many of us who witnessed on TV the unbelievable event carry the searing memory of what harm hysterical anger can do.
More than we are likely to acknowledge, the fear and anger I have briefly described cannot be erased from our minds. The scenes remain on our video tape but also in the deep chambers of our psyche as people continue to die and political chicanery fans the flames of anti-democratic sensationalism. This is what I have been describing as the gathering darkness.
What then, given such an overbearing weight of darkness, what is left to say about the light? It is this: The darkness itself gives birth to the light. Without the darkness we wouldn't have light. In the shadows of our life we find the nuances of character and learn to touch the moral center of our existence as that which truly makes life worth living.
Consider for example a poem by Derek Mahon, "Everything is Going to be All Right." Written in 1995, and published in his book, Selected Poems by Penguin, this poem by Mahon has probably been the most quoted of any other poems during the pandemic. Listen and you will see why.
How should I not be glad to contemplate
the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window
and the high tide reflected on the ceiling?
There will be dying, there will be dying,
but there is no need to go into that.
The lines flow from the hand unbidden
and the hidden source is the watchful heart.
The sun rises in spite of everything
and the far cities are beautiful and bright.
I lie here in a riot of sunlight
watching the day break and the clouds flying.
Everything is going to be all right.
This is not Pollyanna gibberish. Mahon acknowledges there will be dying, there will be dying, and the beautiful and bright cities are far away. But the sun will rise, and "everything will be all right."
How does Mahon know this? "The lines flow from the heart unbidden and the hidden source is the watchful heart." Here, in the middle of his remarkable poem, Mahon reveals the secret that makes profound any poem, any work of literature, or for that matter any humane endeavor. I describe this as a secret although it is not. We all know that the most worthwhile experience we have had, or ever will have, originates in the heart.
But, on the other hand, perhaps it is a "secret" the way "lines flow from the heart unbidden." The heart, or the soul, knows deep things of which the mind is unaware. This is what Carl Jung means when he refers to the "mythopoeic imagination." That word, "mythopoeic," first jumped out at me when I read Memories, Dreams, Reflections (p. 188) the second time. What a strange word, I thought; what could it possibly mean? This is the way New Oxford American Dictionary defines "mythopoeic": the making of a myth or myths.
Remember that "myth" as used here means a special kind of story that accounts for events and beings endowed with significance for understanding human existence. In other words, we human beings seek to connect in meaningful stories all that we experience.
Within the scope of our mythopoeic imagination, these stories or myths float through centuries of time and space. Along the way, just as our clothes pick up lint, so do our myths pick up characters, events, and other stories, as they change, evolve, disappear, and perhaps reappear as archetypes are wont to do.
In this symbiotic dance of darkness and light, we find meaning for our being. C.S. Lewis said it this way:
If the whole universe has no meaning we should never have found out
that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and
therefore no creature with eyes, we should never know it was dark.
Dark would be without meaning. (Mere Christianity)
Now is the season when we become aware once more of how special the light is. Millions of people around the globe follow their experiences of light, urged on by a refusal that the darkness should define our existence, emboldened by a centuries-old faith that "the light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it."