I have an enduring memory from childhood that both frightens and comforts me.
At about 5 years old, I woke one morning to discover that I could not see. Disoriented and afraid, I stumbled to the hall and felt my way to my parents’ room where I cried out in fear of my blindness.
My mother calmed me down by applying a warm washcloth to my eyes. I had gone to bed congested and through the night the discharge of that congestion covered my eyes and sealed them shut.
Slowly, the warm cloth broke through the barrier and I was able to blink my way back to sight.
From peaceful sleep to the terror of my unexpected blindness to the relief at its swift dissipation I traveled a long road of revelation in a very short time.
It was not for my 5-year-old self to make sense of that revelation, of course, but it remains the life work of the person who types these words. To be blinded by the discharge of unseen forces working under cover of darkness is to awake to the terrifying reality of no control.
I am not afraid of the dark, but I am sometimes afraid that when waking into blindness I may not be able to summon the mother within myself, the part of me that knows where to find the washcloth, to soak it in warm water and to hold it to my eyes with persistence and care.
When trapped in darkness, will I acquiesce to fear, or will I bring myself back into conversation with the light?
These early days of December are beautifully dark and brief. I am up before dawn most mornings and enjoy the privilege of watching the sunrise from the warm comfort of the living room. It is in this quiet place, as a witness to the new day, that I find myself most at ease with the unknowns of my experience.
The deep anxiety that haunts me when I find myself awake at 2:00 a.m. is simply not present over a cup of coffee at the beginning of the day.
I wake into possibility, the pre-dawn darkness offering reassurance that does not exist in the stretch of night that comes before.
It says, “Just now, even if for a short time, let this darkness surround you with both peace and purpose; the peace of knowing that you are enough and the purpose to step out, once again, into the sacred unknown.”
‘When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same: If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand the data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse.’
– Paul Hawken
The gathering darkness is real.
And you are a point of light.
Choose to shine or choose not to shine. You decide.
If you choose to shine you will only get brighter as the darkness deepens. And if others also choose to shine the points of light will connect and overwhelm the darkness.
Don’t concern yourself with the darkness far from here. There’s enough nearby to contend with. Concern yourself with that person who has not yet decided to shine and see if you can help them start their own, small fire.
One at a time.
DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.