The art of finding light in the dark


What I love about December is as long as Santa’s Beautiful List.

Hot chocolate, piles of fluffy blankets, our Christmas tree filled with ornaments representing our family’s special memories. Little Red Charlie, our elf on the shelf who is still hiding in the house even though the jig has been in place for years. Songs, peppermint mokas, cards of friends near and far, Linus Van Pelt reciting the Book of Luke. Advent candles, “Silent Night” singing during Christmas Eve candlelight services, the neighborhoods are lit up with garish lights.

As we end another year in desperate need of redemption, all of this light in the darkness offers hope.

It’s not just the towering Cowboys blue tree at Star in Frisco or the plethora of choreographed light shows across Dallas-Fort Worth or the backyards and dazzling rooftops of my neighborhood. Yes, these lights pierce the dark winter skies, but they also symbolize the light we each carry, our own ability to dispel darkness.

I remembered the power of light while enjoying Van Gogh‘s current exhibition at the Dallas Museum of Art. “Van Gogh and the Olive Groves” brings together works from the last year of the tortured artist, when he voluntarily lived in an asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, France. He found peace by painting the olive trees that surrounded the mental hospital.

When you stand in front of his paintings, knowing some of his history and struggles, you remember that we are complex beings. We are not just our grief and our folly, not just our optimism and our intellect. We are all those at the same time, capable of creativity in mourning, of compassion in suffering.

My favorite piece from the exhibition, Olivier, captured me with serene greens and blues, pulled me closer with his perspective and swirling brushstrokes, and forced me to consider the pain Van Gogh endured as he created such beauty.

Van Gogh found and shared hope in the midst of despair.

Around the same time last year, if we weren’t mourning the losses from COVID-19, we were at the very least frayed after a few months of the pandemic. And here we are, grateful that we made it through a tough 2021 and head into 2022 with another new variant and all the uncertainty and fear that comes with it.

We could all use a little more light in the dark – and maybe a reminder that we can make other people’s lives easier when we share our own light.

I’m an optimist deep in my soul, and when my husband was battling brain cancer years ago, I became an expert in silver lining. We celebrated every month – 12 Blessed Months – Survival Beyond Expectations based on her diagnosis. When he could no longer drive, we felt lucky that I could. We were happy when the blood counts allowed the chemotherapy to continue. We have dug deep for light in the darkest days.

But sometimes you have a hard time finding solace and you need the help of others.

During what would be the last Christmas season of Steve’s life, about 50 friends and family gathered on our front lawn to sing Christmas carols to our little family. We sat on the front catwalk and listened to “Angels We Have Heard on High” and “Jingle Bells” and “Joy to the World”.

All of these special people, gathered outside our home, sharing their voices and expressing their love – they shared the light that carried us through some of our darkest days.

Each Advent season since, I take a moment to sit in one place in our yard, remembering where friends have gathered and what tunes they have sung. I marvel at our capacity for joy in the midst of heavy trials and set up a new intention to ward off darkness. I give thanks for December and its gifts, many of which are not under the tree.

Tyra Damm is a columnist for Briefing. She can be reached at [email protected].

About Bernice D. Brewer

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