Light in the Dark

Light in the Dark

Last year, I was at an event in Jerusalem. There were tens of thousands of people crushed into the squares and twisted streets of the old city. It was so crowded that movement was almost impossible – this huge throng of humanity was shoulder-to-shoulder and unable to move freely. Amplify my dislike of crowds with my concerns about how perfect these conditions were for a terrorist attack. As I fought my way through this crowd I was not happy, and suspect that very few people were.

But at one point in that night, as I stalled in my efforts to push my way through the crowd, I became aware of a little girl, perhaps 9 nine years old, pushed against me. I was thinking about how much worse this probably was for a child, who could see nothing but adult torsos around her. As I thought this, the little girl, snaggle-toothed and bespectacled, looked up and made direct eye contact with me. She smiled. Her smile was like the sun breaking through a mass of storm clouds. That a child could spontaneously summon this kind of bright and open response to a complete stranger, under these circumstances, blew me away. And my takeaway from that night, rather than my discomfort, fear and paranoia, was an awareness of the great gift of this kind of real, sweet and affirmative contact between strangers, like a candle in the wind.

I’ve been aware of it before – those “stranger” encounters that fill me with hope. Each one creates a massive charge in the battery we rely on to light up our lives and fight the darkness. Far more often, however, there are small events, that trickle charge that battery.

I am known to the people I grew up with, as a shameless flirt. I am. But what most people fail to realize, is that flirtation, at least as I practice it, need not be specifically sexual. I flirt with men. But I also flirt with children, women – pretty well any human who might interact with me in a playful fashion. And any one who has seen me work either my dogs or someone else’s would recognize, even if they didn’t summon this word — is that what they’re seeing is a flirtation. Because as I practice it, flirtation is a playful and often wordless interaction in which, through eye-contact and body language, two beings SHARE something: often amusement, or (less happily) – shock and/or disapproval. Throughout my life, flirtation has contributed to generating some of the charge I require to keep darkness at bay. In recent years, with the increased invisibility of older women, it seems that those charges are less frequent and less adequate. The energy required to rage against the dying of the light, is less available than it was when I was more visible.

And so in later life, the challenge may become, how to develop alternative strategies to yield that jolt of a silent but positive Something between strangers, that fuels the feeling that you still have a place in the world.

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