Everywhere I turn, I run into the concepts of story and storytelling, and I’m fascinated by the truth that these concepts are central to the human experience. I find evidence of story and storytelling everywhere. Most recently, I encountered a quote I want to share with you.
It’s from the first season of True Detective, an HBO series. In this first series, the major characters are two cops, played by Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. At the end of one episode, the two have a dialogue about the meaning of life, and McConaughey’s character, Rust Cohle, gives a speech that includes this:
Rust: “Yeah, I think you remember how I never watched the TV until I was 17, so there wasn’t much to do up there [Alaska] but walk around, explore, and…”
Marty: “And look up at the stars and make up stories. Like what?”
Rust: “I tell you Marty I been up in that [hospital] room looking out those windows every night here just thinking, it’s just one story. The oldest.”
Marty: “What’s that?”
Rust: “Light versus dark.”
Is it really true that there’s just one story? I decided to put this statement to the test. Stories about fighting the bad guys (Star Wars, Lord of the Rings) are certainly light versus dark. But what about a romance novel? A YA vampire novel? A comedy?
The “dark” can be inner as well as outside. There is the “dark” of loneliness, of fear of death, or fear of what might be called a “death in life,” that might be manifest in many ways.
Take a movie like Tootsie, in which Dustin Hoffman dresses like a woman to get a job on a sit-com, and he falls in love with his co-star (played by Jessica Lange). Where is the dark? I believe Tootsie has a lot to say about who we are as humans, not just men or women, and our inner longing and loneliness (the dark). In the most poignant scene, the two are in her bedroom with little pink buds in the wallpaper, and the longing in Tootsie is palpable.
A concept that has meaning for this discussion is what’s called the “dark night of the soul,” the title of a 16th-century poem by a Christian mystic named St. John of the Cross. The term is used by Roman Catholics to denote a spiritual crisis, but in its broader sense it can describe what spiritual author Eckart Tolle says is “collapse of a perceived meaning in life.”
As I write this, we are at the darkest point of the year – the winter solstice, when days are shortest and nights longest. I’ve always felt this is a special time, because it combines the reality of darkness with the hope of light, as the succeeding days grow longer.
Gary Zukav, a spiritual teacher, says,
The winter solstice has always been special to me as a barren darkness that gives birth to a verdant future beyond imagination, a time of pain and withdrawal that produces something joyfully inconceivable, like a monarch butterfly masterfully extracting itself from the confines of its cocoon, bursting forth into unexpected glory.
Christmas as the Light
The light vs. dark story is played out in many religions, but I wanted to mention Christianity as a premier example. We celebrate Christmas at midwinter, that darkest time of the year. We sing carols like Hark, the Herald Angels Sing, which includes “light and life to all he brings.” I remember as a child going to a Christmas Eve service in which we sang “Joy to the World” while holding lighted candles. The church was filled with light.
The final lines of True Detective return again to the discussion of light vs. dark. Marty has said, looking at the sky, “it appears to me that the dark has a lot more territory.”
Then Rust says:
Rust: “You’re looking at it wrong, the sky thing.”
Marty: “How’s that?”
Rust: “Well, once there was only dark. You ask me, the light’s winning.”
May your stories bring light to the darkness.