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A book is never finished, says Denis Slattery, author and teacher, only completed when the reader has an imaginal healing.

Such was my experience studying the classical memoir, And There Was Light (1963), written by Jacques Lusseyran. Accidentally blinded when eight years old, he awakens to an inner light that enables him to see.

He writes, “I began to look more closely, not at things but at a world closer to myself, looking from an inner place to one further within, instead of clinging to the movement of sight toward the world outside…”

Totally relying upon this inner light, he went on to excel in his studies, to attract a network of wise friends, to head up a youth resistance group in Nazi-occupied Paris, and to survive Buchenwald. The memoir concludes with his liberation.

Its title serves as a compelling leitmotif, its mystery first depicted in the Genesis creation story. “God said, ‘Let there be light.’ And there was light.”

Within this light, however accessed, we thrive.

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Raw evil fascinates and repels. It obliterates every vestige of life, on some level.

This may account for the continuing fascination of historical novels set in World War II, in which readers glimpse this darkness, but from a distance. The author Anthony Doerr presents just such a broken world in All the Light We Cannot See (2014), A National Book Award Finalist.

Pitted against this insanity are two teenagers of exceptional spirit: the blind French Marie-Laure and the German orphan Werner. Significant childhood losses do not deter them from forging ahead into harrowing experiences, even with war breaking over their heads.

Compounding this mayhem is the sinister Sergeant Major VonRumpel, gemologist for the Reich; he is desperate to locate the Sea of Flames, a mythical diamond believed to be in the possession of Marie-Laure’s father, the principal locksmith at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris.

Through a series of plausible synchronicities, the author brings these characters together into the walled port city of city Saint-Malo on the Brittany coast before the Allied bombing in August 1944. Some survive.

The book’s title, All the Light We Cannot See, suggests a protecting Light guiding those teens through monstrous evil. This Light is also available to us as we wake up to similar darkness within and around us.

 

 

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It is dusk. November winds skitter shriveled leaves into piles along the curb, against storefronts on Manchester Road, upon windshields of motorists. Leaning against a newsstand slouches a sightless shopper, his right hand poised on his red-white cane; his left, clutching a bag from Walgreen’s. He strains for the stoplight’s buzz to cue him forward. Long moments pass until its raspy sound squares his shoulders into action. Tentatively, he sweeps his cane in front of him and shuffles across the street. Motorists watch.

This man, like many others afflicted with blindness, shows us how to maneuver in darkness, even thrive.

We, the sighted, also experience darkness in our festering resentments, as well as in the fear-mongering media plunging our world into back alleys of compliance. So much is shrink-wrapped, truncated, and juiced to exhaustion. Ignoring what’s going on does not help. It is far better to know the forces draining our vitality.

So how maneuver in this darkness, without losing soul, certainly the challenge facing us today? Some suggestions: slow down; access the Light within; listen for cues, much like that blind man did, crossing Manchester Road; and obey them. It does work.

May we keep our spirits open to this Light and allow its warmth to enlarge our courage. We are special!

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