December 21—the day it is darkest, the day we celebrate the dark, revel in stars and alpenglow and silhouettes of grand old trees against the year's most expansive night sky.
I used to love the dark when I was staying somewhere with a lot of extroverts always around, claiming the daylight and hours of inescapable togetherness. Finally, I could go home to just myself, when the darkness held me alone inside its comfortable heart. I could hear myself think again. I could feel my scattered parts coming together quietly into what I could recognize as me.
I was never especially afraid of the dark, although I knew bad things could happen in it, like my mother's stepping on a wobbly stone when we participated after dark one autumn in the Burning of Zozobra. (I was a "Gloom," but she was gloomier.) Always at Christmas, though, I felt quite safe from imagined intruders who might be out in the living room sneaking around, because the space was gently guarded by the Christmas tree, its grandfatherly presence keeping us all safe. The creaks and whisperings were only the heater, the last bits of the piñon fire settling in the fireplace, the prowling wind.
I love this description by Jane Hirshfield (in AGNIonline, Zen and the Art of Poetry) of a transformative experience with darkness: 'When I was twenty, and living in a farmhouse outside of Princeton, I put on a record album by Miles Davis, Kind of Blue. I fell so deeply into the music, there was only listening, and no sense of a self at all. Then the album ended. The needle made that little click, click, click sound it does when a record is over (a sound I realize will someday soon be unknown, as fewer and fewer people listen to vinyl recordings). It was night, and it was New Jersey, and it was raining. Because no “I” was present, and Miles Davis was also gone, the listening fell into the night and the rain and the vastness, and infinite rain and darkness were what I was. I burst into tears. My friend came running. “What’s wrong?” “Nothing is wrong,” I said. And nothing was. I wept at the largeness I had fallen into and become. It felt like a true understanding of existence.'
That's what we celebrate today, tonight, that oneness with the dark. Dark-gathering.