Years ago - I was probably 17 - I was working at a retail store after school.  I didn't have a car yet, and we'd get done usually at about 9:30-10pm.  Sometimes I'd get a ride from someone, sometimes I'd take the bus, but often I'd just walk home - it was only about 3 miles down one of the busiest roads in town.

Well, busy most of the day, but it often let up at night.  There was a stretch, about 3 or 4 blocks long equivalent along a dirt lot (now a series of shopping centers), where there were no streetlights at all on the north side; the south side was lit fine.  I have one memory in particular that has always stood out.

It wasn't really raining, as such, but a heavy mist hung in the air.  I don't remember why I specifically decided to walk home that night, but I did.  I was dressed in shirt, tie, slacks, and a long black coat that I still have.  I turned the collar up and just started walking.

The streets were mostly empty; a car would occasionally pass, but it was pretty rare.  Mostly, all I could hear were the click-click sounds of my dress boots as I walked on the sidewalk.  The mist killed most ambient light; what was left were these little pools of light, almost perfectly defined, beneath each streetlight along the sidewalk.

I just walked steady, passing from one pool of light to another.  I must have been nearly invisible in the shadows, and something of an apparition in the light.  And always just the steady, regular sound of footsteps in the silence.

And then I stopped.  I got to the last pool of light before the empty stretch.  I could look up and see, in the distance, the stoplights and the next streetlight down at the other end, but between me and it lay this vast, empty darkness.

I wasn't afraid - I'd walked this many times before.  I'm not altogether certain why I stopped in the first place.  But once I had - once I looked out and saw the black unknown, and looked down and saw my own shadow outlined perfectly in a pool of light, I just started thinking.

About the known vs the unknown.  About walking down paths with unsure footing.  About the moment when we decide to step outside the safe and comfortable, even if we can't tell where it's going to lead.  About how we light of light - sunlight, starlight, moonlight, candles, any kind of illumination - as comfort or security or something positive, but that it was really a trap in which we could find ourselves caught.  About how the light only really matters when we first figure out how to shine it into darkness.

And I stood there, at the edge of the light and dark, staring at the border between them.  To anyone passing by or following, it would likely have made an excellent photograph: a single dark figure, standing in the last pool of light before the darkness (some day, I may have to commission someone to paint something along those lines).  I'm not even sure how long I stood there.

But then, without even really thinking about it, without any sense at all that I'd even stopped, I stepped out of the light and into the darkness.

Once I had and my eyes adjusted, I realized that the moon and stars were faintly visible in the sky through the low mist.  That the sidewalk could be seen, if barely.  That it was the light that had made the dark seem deeper than it actually was.

When I got home, I wrote the phrase that popped into my mind at that moment:

"And so I say to you: walk your own path, for the night is young, the air is crisp, and the stars twinkle in anticipation of your eye."


Post a Comment