A shadow requires an object smaller than the light beyond it; a light that is interrupted by the object, but that surrounds it entirely, on all sides but one. But from inside the shadow, it’s hard to say: is the light bigger, or the object? Is the shadow getting longer? Is the light coming back?
A friend told me this story. I can’t seem to find the origin, but it sure sounds like a koan:
A neighbor comes to your door in the night, terrified and desperate, crying, “My house is burning down! Bring water!” The immediate response of compassion is offering your suffering neighbor your water bucket. The better compassionate act is to show your neighbor there is no fire. The greater act of compassion is to show your neighbor there is no house.
I think this is the line in the peace prayer about fear – eye-darkening, desire-disordering, people-alienating fear; the baffling uncertainty of losing all perspective in the dark. I begin to believe that the only way out is to escape the object which casts the shadow, somehow remain hidden, outlast the object, or scheme for its defeat.
Whole lives are lived in these shadows. Whole days. Acediated afternoons, avoiding inboxes of dread. Hyperventilated hours in the comment section.
May I offer you a kindness?
May I show you the shadow’s edge, where the illusion of the object’s power is broken?
May I bring you a light?
The instant of light, the shadow is not.