One of my best memories of growing up in a crowded neighborhood in Brooklyn was the ride we took each summer at the end of June.
We went as a family to a campground on Long Island, where we camped until school was ready to open after Labor Day in September. It was a time of near total freedom.
My siblings and I would wander around the “woods,” picking berries with our friends, hang out in the tree house we had constructed over the years, with bits of lumber we ‘found’ around the camp, and otherwise just do whatever occurred to us on the spur of the moment.
Every afternoon, if it wasn’t pouring rain, we would head for the beach, where we would stay until dinnertime, after which we would sit around a fire and kibitz, either at our campsite or the site of a friend’s campsite.
They are golden memories! Among those memories are sitting in the campsite looking at the stars. We didn’t see many stars in Brooklyn - the street lamps and the lights from all the buildings hid most of them from us. On a clear night, when every star seemed visible, everything felt different. It was bright. No artificial light was needed. Everything we needed was right above us.
Unwittingly, I began to understand that darkness is not a bad thing. In fact, it often makes our place in the universe clearer. I have been spending a lot of time reading about what this understanding implies; particularly a book, Learning to Walk in the Dark, by Barbara Brown Taylor.
Taylor reflects on so many ways that our (in)sight increases when we allow ourselves to linger in the darkness. We can learn a lot about ourselves in the darker times of our lives (think sickness, death, disabilities, death of loved ones), if we allow ourselves to grow from what we learn, rather than run from the uncomfortable realities we face. Life is always a mixture of light and dark. The ancient creation stories all reflect this awareness, including the Genesis stories, which tell us the Creator separated night from day, having purpose for both.
These ongoing reflections cause me to ask, ‘What did I, what can I, learn from the darkness that I, like everyone else whoever lived, have faced? How did I, how can I grow from these experiences? It is causing me to say more emphatically than ever, that even though it often doesn’t seem right, that darkness and light are both part of my life.
While I run from the darkness I may be running from a golden opportunity in which I might grow in wisdom and maturity. Which is to say, while dark times are not always welcome, I want to embrace them more fully, so that they are more fruitfully a part of the full experience of life.
I offer that insight to you. As we relate to and care for the older adults in our lives, one of the more valuable things we can do with and for them is to walk with them during their dark times. And to do so, not seeking to provide answers (they will eventually find their own), but seeking to accompany them on their journey, allowing them to see that darkness is not always bad, but can be a time of enlightenment.
About Jim Stinson
I first became an ordained member of the New York Conference of the United Methodist Church fifty years ago. Through my time with the pastoral ministry, I worked extensively with older adults, many of whom were members of my congregation. I also served as the Director of Spiritual Life for United Methodist Homes from July 2002 until my retirement in July 2015, providing guidance and support to residents, family members, and staff. I love reminding people that “old” is not a dirty word and encourage others to adopt a healthy perspective on aging. I am also the author of a book, Just Because I Am Old – A Practical and Theological Guide To Caring, which was recently published in 2014.
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