‘Seeing Light’ is the ninth installment in Daniel Boscaljon’s literary nonfiction series Becoming A Ghost. The previous installments can be found here.
I open my eyes and see an amorphous fog that muffles the tonal differences among the shades that seem suddenly unsayable—the way that, at the decisive moment, your mouth forgets how to shape the name of the very person you most love. Objects beckon me, doing nothing more than exist, than flicker at the horizon of my gaze. Each clamors with an internal drive to reveal itself, light sparking outward, radiating from its core. A fire hydrant, a sign, a brick proposition my attention. Each thing teaches me not to focus on the center, even though the light concentrates there. It becomes more dense, heavier instead of brighter, but the light itself static, and my gaze is pulled to the fuzzy edges where the light blurs back into the world, where the redness of the hydrant’s light becomes part of the surrounding darkness. I recognize, for the first time, the gap between a thing and another thing as well as the boundary between my attention and objects in the world, a gap that allows for the illumination of indistinctions. Harmonies emerge as color combinations, part of an ongoing symphony that my eyes take in.
The crimson edge of a leaf becomes the dirt it rests upon, brown graced with muddy red. The glass of a broken bottle becomes a brown glint on a grey canvas. The leaf becomes the ground, the glass becomes the stone—but in its moment of transition, when each thing is at its most fragile, it celebrates its own incompletion by rendering its background incomplete without it. The bare patch of ground between a tree’s gnarled roots, which dig into the ground like massive fingers, becomes itself only after the leaf has fallen into place. Until the leaf’s arrival, the ground had never been the place that shone to me with a friendly warmth—it would have been part of an undifferentiated vagueness, a blank potential space instead of this place in my when.
I realize, too, that the space between leaf and tree is a space where I can belong. I cannot push myself into the dense light of its interior. So doing would but dim and darken it. The light belongs to each thing, but it invites me to observe and participate in the fringes of its warm illumination. I realize that this invitation bears meaning: each thing encourages me to invest in its beauty. I can witness it, expand it, maintain it in its difference without needing to make it mine. I smile as I realize that I can love this space, respecting it in its difference. Preservation without possession. The light of the world shimmers in a surging pulse as I feel the truth of that word, love, as a musical gift. I laugh: love is still possible as a truth! Loving occurs! Laughing releases love from its prison of obligations where I had buried it, condemning myself and those I loved under the dreary weight of rules. I had been wrong.
The ghost of my former misrelation weighted me down, dimming the surrounding play of shades and color that flicker peripherally. I feel its weight now, sensing something behind me. I turn to see it, but it remains a dead space in my vision. It is a thing that attracts no light. It is exiled from the glow of life around me. It does not fit in my world. I no longer fit: I cannot laugh. The lights dim.
I feel sadness for it. Or maybe at it. This thing is mute. It enlonelies the things around it; its muteness distracts from the play of light from thing to thing around me. It does not invite me into its center. It has no light to attract my gaze—what draws my attention is its very stillness, its absolute unlikeness to me. Without light, its matter does not matter. It became abjected, thrown out of time. Its obdurate quality upsets me. Its persistence is unjustified.
I recall a film I watched in school, when something stuck to the lens of the projector became a constant shadowed spot on the screen that created the appearance of continuity where none would otherwise exist. The stain cast its asymmetrical shadow on the sun, the ocean, the desert, the forest. I remember how we laughed, at first. Then a grim silence intruded. The stain meant something true that we were too innocent to name. The teacher, whose return to our classroom reacquainted us with the cheap smoky flavor of despair, remained oblivious to our quiet horror. After his yellowed finger reintroduced light, the stain remained within us. It blotted out our speech.
I feel its chill stain still within me, and hear its echo voiding resonant within the mute darkness behind. The lightless mass weighs the world down, a peculiar gravity that makes each step a struggle. I feel as though the world tilts down toward it. I shiver as it creates the extinction of light. It makes me afraid, but it seems too unthinking to be evil. I step toward the streetlight but still feel its pull: turning around, I see that spot stretching on the pavement behind me, thinned out as though it is my shadow. The ground tilts as though I have stumbled on the slope of a hill. It is not the ground, but the gravity in darkness that lingers behind me. Things whirl, or the light within them does, with vertiginous alienation. I am abstracted from my place. The openness in the middle of things toward which the light shone no longer beckons to me. These things offer now offer no home. I rub my eyes, but these things remain closed. I no longer can find a home within their spaces, within the living light they share.
Darkness clouds my vision for a moment, then I see light again.
I look back at the tree and see only the gray light from a rainy day when I glimpsed that trunk as I drove past in dryness. All of the light has become old. Even the stars, as I look above me, are remnants of my childhood that wink from the velvet blackness like friends that ache to be remembered. Each thing about me preserves this light, or that light, greeting me with an awful familiarity. Each waves from spaces I had thought forever lost, an uncanny greeting I have no desire to return.