O*ne-thirty in the morning, I'm creeping, ever-so-swiftly, to the entrance to my favorite public sculpture park. I don't like the sculptures, but I like their shadows. There's so much hidden meaning in what you see when you look at a shadow.... Thousands of years ago, the sun was worshiped as a life-giver - the ultimate source of everything man needs to survive: food, water, shelter, companionship.
Shadows are the only thing that light will never reach.
I don’t have an MP3 player, but I have music. Tonight, my playlist starts with Yellowcard’s *Lights and Sounds…I sing it lowly to myself as I approach the darkened rebar fence that acts as sentry, guard, arbiter, and jailer to the inanimate zoo they contain. Rebar is always rusty. My hands wrap themselves around two of the bars as I ready myself for the heave overboard.
I’m over the motor gate, now, and I’m free. The police don’t patrol the park, and there are other cars populating the lot I parked in. Too many people work too late. A girl I know told me that the quality of one’s life is multiplied by two for every three hours of sleep one gets – she told me this at three a.m. after we’d painted the town red. Someone else told me that for every eight hours of sleep one loses in a week subtracts, roughly, a week from one’s life expectancy. If that’s true, and I was supposed to die at seventy, I’ll be dead at sixty. But, honestly? I don’t care how long I live. I’m ready to die now. I mean, I don’t want to die now – it isn’t my preference of events – but, I’m at peace with how I’ve lived my life; so if I do die, I’ll die happy…. What was I talking about? Right, “Too many people…” So, why, if they’re going to die (because even if we distract ourselves, like Mr. Ivan Ilyich, we will die), do they seek these self destructive courses through life? Staying up to finish the quarterly report; dying of hunger to lose some weight; falling asleep at work, and getting assigned more late-night work as punishment; buying things no one will see; dressing up to impress those that don’t matter; dying for that promotion; dying for that car; dying for that girl; dying for that guy….dying.
I look at my hands as I walk into the shadows of trees and gazebos. Rebar is always rusty…and rust is always red. Now I look as though I’ve killed. My hands are the evidence that I’ve wrung the life out of an innocent metal gate-post. I’d like to plead insanity. I’ll take the ten years in solitary confinement, please.
I pull a left, then a right, then a left, then a right, then a left, then a right…actually, I’m wandering – no, meandering – through the park, with Hans Zimmer’s Davey Jones Movement roaring in my head; I meander in time with the music. My feet take me to the places I like best. Places where the night looks back at you; where you have to force yourself to set your gaze. Try staring into pitch blackness sometime. It’s not a comfortable feeling. I’ve heard that darkness is where evil resides. I think darkness is misunderstood…like the nature of “evil.” Sit opposite a weird, 20th-century abstract three-dimensional art piece, and stare, hard, into the darkness at its heart. There are stories there. So many unanswered questions can be answered when you ask those things that can’t give you a tangible answer.
I’ve counseled with the shadows; now for therapy: interpretive dance accompanied by a healthy dose of therapeutic screaming. I sing a lot. You never notice how quietly you have to sing in public until you really need to sing. That’s why there are shadows. They listen very intently, don’t think you’re strange, and soak all pain, pleasure, anger and fear you might sing to release. Something by Vampire Weekend is jamming in my head, and this time, I’m singing along….
To the shadows.
Snippets of opera pieces start fluttering through my head. Accompanied by Ugandan chants, and Pawnee ritual songs. And I’m dancing around the shadow of a fire.
If you never felt pain, how would you know what pleasure felt like? So I celebrate it; by exhaling it in a chorus meant only for the stars, and shadows, and ghosts. I celebrate, dancing in the darkness, waving my arms at the veil of clouds and the stars behind them; I hop to one foot, and wobble in step with the music in my head, and the words on my lips. I hop to the other, and jump at the crescendo of sounds in my mind, those sounds flushing me clean of the hurt, and pain, and grief that plague every creature that may consider why he’s been hurt. In mid flight, I feel the brief weightlessness of flight, hovering in the heavens. Caught between the clouds and the shadows, I close my eyes, and leave my time of arrival a mystery to myself; the last of my cares escapes me, and as I touch the soft, dewed earth, I am delivered.
Now I can commune, freely, with these dark places. Don’t Let Me Down, by the Stereophonics comes to mind. Have you ever been let down? Of course you have. You are every day. Every hour. I am. Every day, every hour. It’s life. I think we expect too much of ourselves…of others. That animal desire to improve ourselves and our conditions drives us to expect the impossible. And the animal desire to improve our chances of success in life tell us we’ve failed when we, well…fail. The pits of our souls know better, though. They see the whole instead of those precious few real failures. They’re as dark as night, herself. She’s listened to our hearts tear themselves apart. The weight of failure is overwhelming, but the shadows lend shoulders to bear the weight with us…to lighten the load. I’ve told them how it feels to be human, now they show me how it feels to not care.
“Don’t Let Me Down”, they plead. The bluesy, wailing lyrics fit the moment: all of the emotion of celebration and sorrow wrapped into one tangled poem. My arms climb above my head, wrapping around themselves, snaking through the air, as I dance with the absence of light…as I embrace the objectivity that knows how to evade the sun.
Wisdom, is wisdom, is wisdom; truth on the lips of the devil is still truth. And I’ve listened.
Now those great, and wise shadows bear my weight effortlessly, and I can relax. I find myself exhausted, and legs give way to putty; I find myself flat on my back. Now I lie upon the grass, touched by the places where light never will.
The color black is said to be so because it absorbs all the colors of the spectrum. That it takes, and never gives. Like Salt Lake. It’s said that anything that never gives, dies. Like Salt Lake. But can death die twice? How much more can shadows absorb than colors? What else can shadows absorb? I think black is a wonderful color. Like shadows. And they both give. To give by taking; what a wonderful idea…. They’ve filled a very hard niche to fill in this world.
My legs and lungs compete in me, burning, exhausted, and happy. I let the veil slip from my face, and the shadows watch me smile; my big, goofy, elated grin thanking them for listening. There’s no fear in my gut, no depression crushing my chest. The doubt and loneliness and helplessness cannot touch me.
I am the shadow of pain. The shadow of fear. The shadow of the pull and push of life.
They will never reach me.
The world would be a better place if we sung to the shadows instead of running from them. You can’t touch one, like you can people; but they can’t hurt you, either – like people can. Someone told me that you can’t depend on people, because they will always let you down. I think I’ll keep trusting, and sing when they do.