“Your word is a lamp to my feet
and light to my path.”
~ Psalm 119:105
When grey days outnumber the sunny spells at about 12:1, brightness stands out. We naturally take note of contrasts. In the crepuscule, light sources are sought. Severity generates hunger for splendor. As shining faces, sunflowers pivot and lean toward the light that nourishes their countenances. Silence savors music, and cacophonous racket craves solitude. I’ve just come from providing a consultation for a future museum to be housed in an immense textile mill complex. A major part of interpreting the lives of millworkers and their industries is to understand how these manufactures operated. Resembling the ruins of a walled medieval city, advancing deeper into the labyrinth-like buildings, corridors, chambers, and stairs, the environment proportionately darkened.
Finally, in the cavernous bowels beneath acres of century-old brick, iron, and timber structures I saw the subterranean waterways that were built to channel river rapids. The curators call these “lagoons.” One can just imagine the workers’ suffocating days in such confines, along with the deafening noise-level they must have endured. But now all is stilled, deserted, and somber. Emerging through levels of thick flooring and conveyors, glimpses of sun through slotted portals dazzled. The experience was one of reaching surface to light and air. I’ve needed a good long walk to be able to expel the mill’s stagnant acrid odors.
So stark of a contrast between spaces of thick sightless void and open skies prompts a strong impression in the form of gratitude for natural light. What exemplifies brightness? This has been in my thoughts during these slate days. We image that which we crave. In the absence of strong light, what says “brilliance” to you? This week, when there were precious slivers of time to close my eyes, I’d ask myself to identify brightness. What sparkles through shadowed spans? Yesterday, while writing in a coffeehouse, I looked up from my notebook and noticed contrasts between dimmed exteriors and convivial human sounds. Bright marks against a darkly opaqued canvas. The man who repairs my car was at the next table, dining with his wife. He recognized me before I realized who he was, due to this unusual context. A genuine smile of kindness is indeed luminous. Savory victuals are brightly spiced, as are fledgling leaves that emerge from rainstorms. New ideas that excite have the brilliance of found treasure.
Later in the day, I asked a writer friend to express brightness. “The beach on an August day,” she replied, as we both looked across Commercial Street at a fog bank. “And tulips,” she added, “that’s bright.” Then we compared notes about ice-glazed trees, candles, and windows with sweeping views. Bright as delicate pastries flanked by utilitarian coffee; beaming lighthouses on beaten crags. Images to sustain souls and refuel lanterns.