Francis Bacon, 'father of the scientific method', famously said, "In order for the light to shine so brightly, the darkness must be present." MLK Jr. equally famously said, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that." As soon as I walked out my front door this morning, I felt darkness had descended over the city like a weekend hangover. It wasn’t just the biting cold nor the late sunrise. There was a particular chill in the air. In complete contrast to (what I feel is) the norm, I had sunshine in my heart; for once, I'd woken up when I'd meant to and had time to sip coffee and be creative before the forces and responsibilities of work pulled me in entirely. But the world around me had frozen.
At first I thought the grayness was bringing everyone down-that mixed with the cold. A girl ran past me, across the intersection on Mt. Royal & Berri, the block in front of the metro. I’d seen her a couple of streets back and was curious whether she was running because she was cold (I was a model example of what to wear when temperatures drop below freezing in my Canada Goose-like [but not] jacket and my hat and hood and gloves and wool socks and bulky boots; she was wearing thin leather boots and not even a hat) but her body language didn’t necessarily look cold, so I thought maybe she was late for work or an important meeting. Maybe she was escaping something.
She ran through the intersection. I felt there was a moment of understanding (MOU) among us bystanders which seemed to make us a cohesive group for an instant. Then, one man in his sixties or so stood apart. He halted midway through the crossing, shouting something incomprehensible (to me - I suppose it could have just been another language that I don't recognize - maybe even French). I noticed his tattered clothing and, more importantly, the blood on his hands. It may have even splattered as he waived them about like weapons or sacred scrolls containing hidden knowledge. Then, he turned around and put up his middle finger. Admittedly, I had a hard time telling which finger he was actually using, but the middle one seemed most logical. He yelled at someone, but I couldn't identify who, with passionate hatred. Was it the girl who had run by? Had she accidentally hit him in her rush? Or did he simply take offence by her jolting speed. No doubt, this man was the one who gave off the biggest lunatic vibe at that intersection, but I still wondered what happened to his hand and whether he was trying to voice a genuine complaint that we should listen to.
I took 24 heures, one the free daily newspapers, from the poor baastaad passing them out this icy morning. Earlier, when sipping my morning coffee, I had read about Charles Manson's death, despite my better judgment. How could I resist? Of course, I am repulsed by him, and feel an abstract sense of relief to know that he is dead - as if an unwanted guest has finally departed. The first news story I see on 24 heures is "coverage" of homicides that occurred in Montreal over the weekend, and it already feels like too much violence for the day. All gun violence at that.
For the first time I sincerely posit to myself the possibility of carrying a weapon to defend myself. If idiots like this, some who are brainwashed by even bigger idiots, are carrying weapons, maybe I should seriously consider having something to defend myself with. Luckily I shake the thought quickly. These are not idiots, they are killers; an idiot with a gun can easily become a killer. Only once did I come face to face with somebody I could see would be a killer with a gun, in Calgary, in 1997 or '98. I was a teenager. Friends and I were outside a bar when a man hit or threatened to hit a woman. I'd been listening to 90's rap all evening so you know I was FULL of courage. I went right up to him and started screaming, doing my best to shame him away. He just smashed the bottle he'd been holding and smiled at me with a look of murder, I swear. Even though I was drunk and dumb I knew enough to back down. Had he or I had a gun, the situation may have escalated to much more violence. It makes me sad to think about the high levels of gun violence in America, the toll it must take is unfathomable to me.
I also feel sadness for those Montrealers who lost someone over the weekend, to what seem like such senseless acts. One of the homicides involved a father and a son -in-law. I cannot imagine the pain of the daughter/wife. Even Charles Manson hit a chord when I read that his mother was jailed throughout his childhood which he spent in and out of foster homes and god knows what and where else. He apparently told the judge during his trial that "I am what society made me." It doesn't remove his responsibility, but maybe we should be paying closer attention to these comments. Maybe society is making these monsters, and if we are, maybe we need to stop.
But they say death is light.
Someone once told me that in the afterlife colours shine brightly, like neon lights only more beautiful and delicate. Now, you might not agree, but it's hard to deny that many cultures represent death with light. In Flicker, a show I saw with a friend this weekend by a BC based First Nation company, The Dancers of Damelahamid, death is represented as a glowing bird. Come to think of it, Flicker probably signifies the flicker of light that is in each and every one of our lives.
We turn the lights on every winter when death appears to win, when trees lose their green and the sounds of life are quieted. We light up our homes and streets with Christmas lights, street lights. During the Day of the Dead in Mexico, they use light to help lead the dead to them, or to another, better place. That might be what Montrealers do, using lights to show that we believe in the life hiding underneath the facade of death.
Now that winter is upon us, we should all be aware of the flickers of light we have to shine onto others. Never underestimate their impact. Remember, while only light can drive out darkness, it is the darkness that makes the light shine so brightly.