How the light gets in

How the light gets in


I drive south from Fort Wayne—Vera Bradley, Fried chicken, Huggy Bear Motel, Pilot Gas—while the radio stations fade, one by one, into sermons and country songs. The first snow throws itself against the windshield, and the steel sky pushes down on the Midwest all day, until the small bodies driving, loving, eating, smoking against it give up, or wail. But at the edge of Indiana a crack of pink light, compressed to burning, fires back. Ring the bells that still can ring, Leonard Cohen sings. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.


This is what waiting looks like: I hold out my fingers and count backwards from nine, or forwards to 28. In nine months I will be looking at the July sky for signs of rain, then hanging my sheets and towels on a line between two trees that will always grow crooked. My dogs will spread out like hyphens across the floor and the cat will turn his white belly up to me when I check the mail. Nothing there. Sunflowers watch the sky.

Meanwhile, the dogs are turning inwards, like commas, along the corners of the room, and the cat tucks his feet under him until he turns into a black and white chicken, watching the sparse neighborhood Christmas lights. The rain pelts down from our Indiana sky. Just behind me, my white retriever drifts along the sodden sidewalk, sniffing the grass for secret messages, the invisible bodies left behind.


After the election, invisible bodies outnumber the living. But the living try, just like the leaves. An old man rakes the leaves from one side of the trail to the other, pushing them off the cliff towards the river. In front of me a small child discovers his legs and springs forwards. The father cannot catch this child in love with his own heartbeat. My dogs race to catch up with all this joy inside all this red, yellow, orange and my breath hums to life.

At the next road, a man and his dog wait to cross the opposite side of us. Our dogs eye each other, pulling like magnets. When we cross, the dogs stare for a moment, decide to fight another day. At the base of the next tree, a fresh pile of green leaves curl in on themselves. Temperatures plunged last night, culling the leaves who tricked themselves into living. The survivors shiver on their stems. In the distance, a golden tree appears — cold sunshine.


At the beginning of dark December, each parish church in Durham City gathers for the cathedral’s Advent service. From a far end of the nave, a man singing in the dark begins to move closer. Voices join him until those voices are ours and the song lyrics echo off the arch of the Gothic ceiling and my heart as the cathedral turns from dark to light in anticipation of an ancient savior. Our bodies become tuning forks, our voices a holy om.

Two months after the world splinters around the Twin Towers, I sit cross-legged on a cold flagstone floor of Magdalene College chapel with twenty other college students. It is a Thursday night in November. A semi-circle of candles holds back the chapel dark; our breath warms the stony air. An ageless white-haired man sounds notes on a piano and begins to sing: O Lord hear our prayer. We join in a timid wave that swells from somewhere between our ribs and throat until the piano stops but we do not, can not, never will.


Imagine your body filling with light the yoga instructor says. My skin is a window and each drop of sweat on my limbs and temples is a clear space for the light to get out. And my light is every color of the rainbow, and my rainbow glows, vibrates from my hips to my head. Imagine your light pushing out into the building. Now the city. Now the whole state of Ohio. And my rainbow is rushing for the edge of America, wiping out electoral maps of red and blue and black. If I open my eyes, forty bodies will turn to generous flame.

Feel your light expand beyond the solar system and I watch, suddenly emptied, as my light shoots out of the Milky Way, leaving an alpenglow inside, turning gray. We cannot sustain so much burning for long; sometimes Sabbath means finding space from the light itself. Now pull your light back the instructor says, because it always comes back. Now lie down on your back. Now feel your hand rest on the palm of the man you love, and on your palm feel an ember matching the one in your heart, matching the one in your throat throbbing Om Om Om.