Shadowy Thoughts

“It is only through the shadows that one comes to know the light,”–St. Catherine of Siena

Sunshine filtered through diaphanous clouds strung across a canvas of azure.  Inhaling gratefully, the pit-pat-pit-pat of my footfall maintained its slowly-as-I-go pace, as I headed along Third Avenue towards the campus of Marshall University.  Temperatures were hovering in the low 40s when I left the confines of Ritter Park and were predicted to rapidly rise into the 70s once the wind shifted and sky cleared.  It was a glorious morning for a run (or, in my case, a slow trot); time for my mind to likewise roam free.

It was about 40 minutes into my run that first revealed the beginnings of a lesson.  Rays began shining so brilliantly as the light of the sun began breaking free from the cloud cover. I was reminded of summer morning sunlight, especially at the beach when . . .

. . . the air is still cool, but the warmth of the sun, reflecting off the oceans waters, whispers of fiery heat to come.  Ocean breezes playfully tousle the hair of beachcombers walking the shore lines; their shadows cast long, accompanying their journey along the sand.  Birds call from above, and they too cast shadows of flight as they dip and dive at their prey . . . .

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Passing through part of the campus of MU, silhouettes of tall multiple structures stretched long and lean as I ran up, over, and around their contours thinking of all the potential possibilities that would typically pass over this walk if it were a weekday.  I was reminded of my former self on another campus, in another time.  It seemed like a lifetime ago.  Pit-pat-pit-pat, my continued cadence reminded me time waits for no one; like the dark building profiles, those university years were shadows of my former self.

Mind wandering once more, it circled back to the sunlight and the way it played hide and seek with each shadow I encountered.  How miraculous the sunlight had seemed this past week–one of those rare, early March weeks, when you know, despite the early morning chill, spring is around every corner, nook, and cranny.  It is that time when the earth remains cold, but soft–wafting with scents of melted snow, recent cold rain, and potential growth sprouting signs through the surface. Meanwhile, spring birdsong abounded each morning throughout the week, as the mating season began with the hope that winter’s shadow is finally shaken.

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Taking notice once more of my surroundings, I took in the expanse of St. Mary’s Hospital;  it’s shadow stretched towards the multitude of campus offshoots behind it.  How many visits have I made there for and/or with loved ones in the shadows of duress?  I began to name them in my head, one-by-one; and yet, my own daughter was born there–one of the most miraculous, brilliant days of life.  What a contradictory place, a hospital, filled with celebration, healing, and hope, but its shadows are filled with fear, illness, and stress.

Crossing over 29th Street, I moved back towards town along 5th avenue where the shadows flipped positions with my shift in direction. I caught a glimpse of my own shadow, appearing long and tall, cantering slowly alongside.  Do I really move like that because I know I am not that tall?  My head began to play games.  For the first time, my mind took notice of the leg fatigue and achiness, the swelling of my feet.  I have less than an hour, I remind the negative side of my brain, my own shadow-self.  Look how far you’ve come.  Think how proud you will feel knowing you did not quit. But I could quit.  I could walk the rest of the way.  I could even call my husband or daughter to come pick me up.  Why would you do that?  You can do this, mind over matter.  No sense believing your shadow, it’s only there because of the light. 

Wait, what? The shadow is there because of the light?

 I am not sure how it made sense, but there was something there, in that thought, in that moment.  Trying to grasp its meaning, its deeper lesson, my mind instead slipped back into the present moment as my feet made their way onto another side of MU campus.  People in colorful costumes were walking towards the campus’ Student Center.  Their colorfully adorned hair, swords, and/or light saber-sort of things, capes, and shields cast intricately shaped shadows that seemingly entered the building well before the actual person.  They must be headed to a comic-con celebration of the shadowy heroes of graphic design.

From 5th Avenue, I eventually made my way to 6th Ave, slowly edging closer to 8th Street for my final lap around Ritter Park as the sun continued to rise and the winds shifted in short, gusted outbursts.  Preparing to pass a presumably homeless gentleman who was walking with a grocery bag in one hand,  I voiced my approach that I would pass him on his left–not wanting to needlessly startle him. He turned to look at me.  His face was red with exposure, covered in a film of grime, his beard was in need of a shave, and his eyes were swollen, but within the center of each sparkled the hint of another life.

“Good morning, Sir.” 

He smiled a mostly toothless, friendly grin.  When he did not speak, I wished him a good day.  He raised a puffy pink hand, and shouted a cheer in my direction.  Within a split moment, his face seemed to fill with light, and for a fleeting instant, I saw the person/the child he once was.  Briefly choked with emotion, I wished desperately that I could somehow impart within him the same vision of potential that I saw within him, in the hopes he could; instead, step into the light and walk away from the shadow of addiction and/or mental illness.  Sadly, I could not, his fight was greater than I could imagine; so instead, I waved back to him, whispered a prayer of hope for his life, and continued on my way.

Returning to the welcoming, much softer path of the park, I completed my run through the dappled light of the Ritter Park loop.  Sections of the crushed limestone path were swathed in shade, and other parts were bathed in full-on sun. Newly established decorative, and highly symbolic, sunflowers dotted parts of the path, allegorical reminders of the shadows of hate and greed left unchecked on a global scale. Can the light of love and peace overcome this?  I can only pray and hope it does.

The sunlight had been a welcome sight, but it was bearing down nearly 30 degrees warmer than when I had first begun.  I was over-dressed and overheated. Nonetheless, I realized, as I walked uphill towards where I had parked, my sunlit run had brought both brightness and heat, cheer and defeat, mind over matter, and lessons of shadow-side of light. 

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Life can indeed be filled with shadows–the darkness of depression, despair, hopelessness, sickness, and for some, even moments filled with greed, jealousy, hate, and numerous other forms of darkness I cannot begin to understand.  Of course, we cannot control the shadows of the world, but we can remind ourselves that where there is shadow, there can also be light.  Without the light, there is no shadow. It is a duality for which we must make peace.

In the meantime, it is up to each one of us, in those moments when we find ourselves dwelling in the shadows too long, to step out into the light.  We may not be able to do it alone; however, by relying on faith, and trusting in the Ultimate Creator of Light, we can, step-by-step, find the light once more.  Who knows?  Your light might be the light that leads another out of their own darkness.  

May your light shine brightly.

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