Finding comfort and looking to The Light in 2021

I don’t need to tell you, dear reader, that this has been a funny old year. Over the festive break I have really managed to switch off, stop worrying all the time and have a bit of a rest. Of course in any year, we all need a bit of a break at mid winter, but this year I think we’ve all needed it more. The rituals of the holidays, despite the constraints of travel and numbers of people allowed to mix, can still provide some comfort.

One of my rituals, for the past 5 or so years is to re-read one of my favourite books from my childhood – The Dark is Rising, by Susan Cooper. In fact I tend to read all 5 in the series. I know I’m not alone in this, there even is a #thedarkisreading for other who do the same.

Like any classic, every time I read it (and the others) I find something new to reflect on, and I am comforted by the power of the writing. The Dark is Rising is set around Christmas, so is of course very seasonal. At its heart is the eternal battle between the forces of The Light and the The Dark. The latter wanting to cause chaos and destroy mankind, the former to protect it.

Over the last couple of years, there have been a number of contemporary analogies to be drawn with the forces of The Light and The Dark. And of course this year, it’s hard not to see the hand of the Dark Lords in the COVID-19 virus and the chaos and death it has, and continues to wreak.

In the book, The Dark creates a huge snow storm that traps people in their houses, the menace of the storm never ending, whirling around, trapping everyone. Most humans are unaware of this battle between Light and Dark – apart from the band of children who feature in the books – but the forces of both The Light and The Dark are represented, at times amplified in human behaviour. The Dark feeding off and encouraging hate, selfishness and greed, the Light bringing care and hope.

When I see news reports of panic food buying, of the ever increasing wealth of tech billionaires, and the increasing divides in our society, I can’t help but think of the forces of The Dark. The Light fights back, but it is an uphill battle.

The books were mainly written in the 1970’s, another time of struggle for many, and this year I was struck, particularly in the last book of the series, Silver on the Tree, with a section explicitly on racism. The language of ignorance and fear it highlights is sadly just as prevalent today as when it was written, however I do hope that BLM is part of The Light’s challenge against this and language and understanding is shifting.I also discovered a fantastic Blacklisted podcast discussing the book which is really worth taking an hour to listen to too.

Now you might be wondering what is the point of this post, but it relates to one theme I that is always with us, but this year has been particularly prescient, and that is time.

This year time has really shifted. The time we spent at our screens, the times we could or could not meet with others, the time where work, family, play, everything, seem to merge into one. The Dark is Rising Sequence also has its fair share of time travel. One of the powers of the Lords of both the Dark and the Lights have is the ability to freeze people in time whilst they, for want of a better word, do and talk about “stuff”. No harm is done to those who are frozen in time, they don’t even realise what has happened and can carry on as normal.

“Normal” – now there’s word for this year! As I’ve taken some proper time out over the past week, I can’t help wishing I had the power to freeze time. I would love to give everyone particularly in education a bit more time and space to stop, breathe and think. To stop trying to carry on “as normal” when normal is still a long way off. To give a bit of time to think how to really change things to reflect our current context. To disentangle ourselves from the deeply entrenched, but now perhaps misguided rituals, for example, exams.

Some business had to shut down during the first lock down and were able to take time to figure out how to operate in a very different environment. Education hasn’t been given that opportunity – it’s had to soldier on. I’m not sure how long it can without a radical re-think. Technology can help but we have to be wary. The forces of The Dark and The Light are fighting a battle there too for equity, for freedom, for care, for access to data.

Anyway, I hope, dear reader, that you have managed to get some time to rest this festive season and have found some comfort too. I wish you a very safe New Year and let’s hope that the forces of The Light start to talk hold in 2020.

NB The first of book of the Dark is Rising Sequence I read was Greenwitch, It had a profound effect on my 10 year self So much so that many years later, I did feel a resonance of The Light when this little landscape formed in my head and onto canvas.

photograph of an artwork titled Greenwitch
Greenwitch, Sheila MacNeill, mixed media on canvas, 2019

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