Light and shadow: a triptych

When I ran yesterday I was struck by the vivid difference between the side of the street in the sun and that in the shadow. In the darkness of the shadow, the sidewalks were still covered in a crust of ice with powdery snow on top (ideal ankle-breaking conditions), while the other side of the street was awash in running water. It sounds so obvious but this difference seemed really stark to me. And I thought about how for me, inquiry and writing are like sunshine: in that light, under their direct power, the ice and snow and slippery, sharp things melt away. Their form changes, their power to hurt dissolves. This is, maybe, why I write about and muse on the darker things that bother me: by focusing my attention on them, I can change the form of their matter (though I can’t make the matter disappear altogether).


On my sunniest days, I am still the mottled pattern of light through a leafy tree. Even the brightest rays of sunshine are partially occluded by shadows. I love the pattern that these shadows make, and find fascination in their order and disorder, but I realize this is personal taste. Some prefer a more direct beam of light. I myself side with Gerard Manley Hopkins: “Glory be to God for dappled things.” There is contrast and life in the interplay of light and shadow that reminds me of the texture of my spirit.


Grace is olive-skinned, dark-haired, with brown eyes just like mine. I can already see that she struggles under some of the same emotional storm clouds that I do. Her light is marbled with shadow, which makes it intimately familiar to me. Whit has skim-milk skin like mine, blond hair, and bright blue eyes. He is a free spirit through and through, he is sunshine without boundaries, he is a splash of bright yellow light against a red barn in the height of summer. Even as I write these characterizations, I am aware of their overly reductive and simplistic nature. Of course my children are more than these caricatures, their personalities each combed through with light and dark in individual, complex ways. But today this is how they seem to me, standing silhouetted against the setting sun of another day, their shadows lengthening behind them.

7 thoughts on “Light and shadow: a triptych”

  1. I love me some Gerard Manley Hopkins! I love how he makes up his own words for things. It’s a brilliant quote you’ve used there.

    It’s true–we’re all dappled, just in different concentrations. And like you, I look at my more-dappled child and feel both a sense of recognition and dread.

    Lovely post. And watch where you’re running–I cringed at the broken ankle part!

  2. I am so glad I was introduced to your blog by Chocolate Chip Waffle. Both of you do such amazing writing.

    very true about your take on contrasts. Some of us bask in more light, while some of us feel weighted under too much darkness.
    I want to learn to be a light basker —–with a little grey to keep me humble

    not so much shadow

  3. Lindsey – this echoes my moods and personality so well, but you say it in such an elegant way. My happiest, sunniest days have an undertone of shade and gray. But I’m okay with that.
    I love how you characterize your kids. It’s so important to be in tune with their temperaments, their moods, their challenges. I wish my parents would have been a bit more attentive to my emotions and WHY I felt how I did, instead of just assuming I was moody.
    Another beautiful post – kudos!

  4. What depth in the descriptions of your children. “He is a splash of bright yellow light against a red barn in the height of summer” — that is poetry, sheer poetry, and you are a mother-poet.

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