Winter in Vermont is dark. My alarm wakes me up at 5:50 in the morning, and my 4 year old daughter (who has often managed, at some point, to crawl into bed with me) opens her eyes and says, “But it is still night.” And I can’t help but agree with her. It is pitch black outside, and every cell in my body wants to fold back in on itself and sleep.
On many days, it doesn’t get much better even when the sun finally (and technically) comes up. The clouds cover the sky with a dark grey curtain. Even the air seems dark, like you are walking behind the lenses of an enormous pair of sunglasses.
The landscape of darkness is fatiguing. In its vast and seemingly endless sameness—no visible contours, no rises and falls, no shades of color—it is tough to find a sense of possibility. Of curiosity. Of hope.
But of course darkness—like all things—is relative. Vermont may be dark, in my opinion, but I don’t live in the…oh…Arctic Circle, for example, where it is dark for months at a time, and I haven’t been buried beneath the steel and plaster and wood of a hospital that has fallen in an earthquake.
In Darkness, by Nick Lake, is about just this. A young Haitian boy is trapped beneath the ruins of a hospital after an earthquake. Darkness surrounds him so thoroughly that he can’t tell if his eyes are opened or closed. He is trapped and hurt and unsure whether he will ever be rescued, and it is from this unimaginable place that he tells his confessional story—how he ended up in the hospital, what life is like in brutal Site Soley, and what led him to do the violent things he did—it is also from this out-of-reality place that his life becomes entwined with the life of the revolutionary slave-turned leader Toussaint L’Ouverture, who himself, in the end, wound up in a small, dark, trapped space.
The story of these two—one present day boy and one historical man—is tough to read. Every page is full of pain and despair, lives on the edge of destruction, blood and bones and a relentless, haunting, eye-opening commentary on the world in which we live. Talk about no sense of possibility, or curiosity, or hope. And yet—well, I won’t say. You’ll just have to read the book.
But, what I will say is that this book gently guided me back to the truth about darkness. If there is darkness, there is light. Somewhere. Coming soon. Or just a hint is already visible. Over there. And there. And, look, way over there. Just this morning, I picked up my daughter in my arms and pointed out the kitchen winter at a streak of pink light emerging from the darkness of the early morning. It was gorgeous. It was hope.
Happy New Year. May it be filled with light.