The light of a winter sun

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In the winter I am writing about, there was much darkness. Darkness of nature, darkness of event, darkness of the spirit. The sprawling darkness of not knowing. We speak of the light of reason. I would speak here of the darkness of the world, and the light of _______. But I don’t know what to call it. Maybe hope. Maybe faith, but not a shaped faith—only, say, a gesture, or a continuum of gestures. But probably it is closer to hope, that is more active, and far messier than faith must be. Faith, as I imagine it, is tensile, and cool, and has no need of words. Hope, I know, is a fighter and a screamer.

—Mary Oliver, “Winter Hours”

Today, on the day I turned 22, I spent some time with Monet at the Denver Art Museum. (I also ate some really good food with my fam and got in my pjs at 3pm and did some writing, which is pretty much the best day). Birthdays are weird for me so I’m grateful to have had this lovely of a day.

Monet paints light in all its shades and angles and emotions. I love thinking about light, its metaphors, its various modes of being. The light of La Sagrada Familia the day I visited comes to mind. The all-encompassing light of warm San Diego mid-mornings, the sun dazzling the ocean from the vantage point of Sunset Cliffs. The harsh light of dry winter afternoons in Denver like today. Cold and sharp sunlight. Shadows that have precise shapes and defined edges. Light slicing through dirty windows. Golden-yellow dust flakes floating to the carpet. A staleness to the light. Winter sun hits differently.

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There is something so beautiful to me about sharp winter light. It is not subtle. It bounces off snow with force, it does not filter itself but demands and commands itself through veiny tree branches and dry hairy grass. It sucks color from the sky. Winter sunlight aches. Starves for something. It does not caress the earth nor play with it. It moves fast, it pierces. It doesn’t hit everything—it leaves room for darkness, for shadows. Cold sharp sun and dust and dead leaves and dry wood—these things are beautiful to me. When my body casts a shadow, reminding me I exist and take up space.

I love Monet’s winter paintings because they depict this special beauty and specific loneliness of winter light. Cold and shadowy, this light allows for the dark. How odd. A light that is fleeting and loves its fleetingness. Light that seems to yearn even, in its own way, for darkness, the darkness of not knowing, which is everywhere in our human lives. Winter sun lets the night come early.

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I love the Monet painting of the glowing red sun. I love its unfinished quality. I love the gentle harshness of it all. Like each stroke was a planned after thought. It’s real. It’s bleak but full of hope, and I don’t say that sentimentally or lightly. Hope is fleeting, temporal. There is a danger to only thinking about hope as an abstraction. Hope is always going to be found in particular, specific bodies and moments. Hope comes and goes. Hope is saturated in time like we are, fighting and screaming for justice.

We are all fading like a winter sun. Birthdays remind me of this.

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It’s nice to be alone for a few hours on my birthday to write and be sad. I don’t know why. Birthdays are weird. I had an amazing day, I really did. I love my family a lot. It’s just more strange as each year passes. 22. What do I want this year? Hello cold world. Let me learn from the winter sun. The big hard sun beating on the big people in the big hard world, like the Eddie Vedder song. The big hard sun beats on dead grass and stale snow. It beats on ocean waves. The big hard sun beats on all of us. The big hard sun reminds us to take care of ourselves and of each other. We cannot survive the big hard world alone.

Another year of yearning and searching ahead. Exhausting, in a good way, to care so much. So I’m here. So I stand in the harsh winter sun, the sun I know.

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I would say there exist a thousand unbreakable links between each of us and everything else, and that our dignity and our chances are one. The farthest star and the mud at our feet are family; and there is no decency or sense in honoring one thing, or a few things, and then closing the list. The pine tree, the leopard, the Platte River, and ourselves—we are at risk together, or we are on our way to a sustainable world together. We are each other’s destiny.

—Mary Oliver, “Winter Hours”

I went back over my journals from this past year, and I had a deep realization that who I have become and who I am becoming is part of a great interconnected spirit of love from people, places, stories. Part of leaning into who I am becoming is a task of specifics. Abstractions can be dangerous. We must be specific to our own conditions and our own stories, accepting them for what they are. Learning to release hurtful lies about ourselves that we held as truth. Yes, our hearts are broken, we are lonely, but we will fall in love again. Yes, we matter, yes, we can come together to change devastating situations. Yes, love exists in this space, somehow. To see the Image of God in everyone and everything and to celebrate it. Like Celie writes in The Color Purple, God is in each one of us, and we need to learn to see that in ourselves and in others, and share it—specific, embodied.

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“Here’s the thing, say Shug. The thing I believe. God is inside you and inside everybody else. You come into the world with God. But only them that search for it inside find it. And sometimes it just manifest itself even if you not looking, or don’t know what you looking for…

I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it… People think pleasing God is all God care about. But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back.”

—Alice Walker, The Color Purple

In 2020 may we notice the color purples in the fields of our lives. May we pay attention to the light and sit with darkness, the not knowing. It is all part of the cosmic dance. May hope fight and scream in us. May we let pain speak for itself and may we become better listeners. And may we realize, too, that God wants to please us in different ways, maybe we just need to pay a little more attention.

This is all I have to say right now. I am so grateful I could cry. Still searching and leaning into life’s contradictions. It’s all a gift.

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I feel happy, I feel sad, I feel like running through the walls
I’m overjoyed, I’m undecided, I don’t know who I am
Well maybe I’m not perfect, at least I’m working on it
22 is like the worst idea that I’ve ever had
It’s too much pain, it’s too much freedom, what should I do with this?
It’s not the way you plan it, it’s how you make it happen

It’s such a cold, cold world
And I can’t get out, so I’ll just make the best with everything I’ll never have
It’s such a cold, cold world
And it’s got me down, but I’ll get right back up, as long as its spins around
Hello cold world

—Paramore


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