Excerpts from “Exiled in Light”

Φως :|: Light

Standing barefoot at a window in the dark room, I reach out one finger and pull aside the curtain for a peek. A bright narrow beam of light streams through the tiny opening. A white-gold blade, it cuts through the air and lands on the floor near my foot. I move my toe an inch or so to the right of it. My heart thumps in my chest as I peer through the parted curtains. I know I have to go out there.

Closing my eyes, I imagine the warmth of the sun. Memory-feelings invade and fill my mind. That sweaty, swollen heat seeping deliciously into skin and muscle. Languid limbs, golden and shiny, hair smelling sweet and musky. I remember lounging in the sunlight, eyes closed, the world filling with a hot orange glow behind my eyelids.

I open my eyes. There is a palimpsest of emotions triggered by that slim slice of light. The stronger and the newest layer is fear. This feeling quickly smothers the old ones of happier days basking in the shimmering daylight. Anxiety buzzes through me, all my cells vibrate with it. I know what is coming from stepping out into that sun, a fatigue so complete it makes limbs lead-heavy. I wonder how long I can endure the light. How long before the pain burns through limbs, lighting up neural pathways so that I can feel each branch? How long before the fever sets in; tender lips blistering, eyes hot and swollen, the back of my neck burning?

Letting the curtain drop back in place, I retreat into the dark room. The air is heavy and close, but the velvety darkness is soothing and I relish the weight. My heartbeat slows; I breathe easier. The darkness is sweet to me, safe and loving. Here I am protected from the sunlight, enveloped by dark rich colors. Ambient light from windows in other rooms faintly leaks into mine. This dim light feels just right, casting soft gray shadows and giving me enough to see. I feel stronger, comforted by the dark.

I linger for ten minutes, but the pleasure does not last. Freedom is out there – in the sunlight. Freedom to feel the warm breeze, see the bright blue of the sky, listen to birdsong. How long has it been since I’ve had the ease of walking outdoors? How long since I’ve laughed with a good friend? A shift occurs deep inside me. The dark room shrinks, the walls close in, and the air suddenly feels stale and hot. The soothing darkness is now oppressive. Conflicting emotions of yearning and fear fight for domination.

Taking several steps forward, I stand before the door. This barrier, this protection, this blockade of dark wood. I place my palm against it, feeling the warmth seeping through. I sigh and, winding a black shawl around and around my head and body, reach for the doorknob.

A few days have passed since the excursion into the daylight. The fevers have subsided. The blisters are plump and sharply painful, but I feel my strength returning. This bedroom is a dark sanctuary where I’ve recuperated from the FOS-sickness. I’m sitting up against a mountain of pillows, a book fallen open into my lap. A candle flickers on the table next to me.  I watch the shadows and warm light dance on the walls and daydream. Once, I loved being in the sunlight, yet all that has changed. The outside is a perilous adventure in an environment that is now alien and menacing. I wonder about this change in perception of light. What should I feel now that light induces sickness? Light is simultaneously poisonous and desirable. How do I reconcile that? Before the FOS-deaths, I never worried about being in the sun. Or, at least, I took it for granted. I enjoyed the sweetness and power of light like any living creature, without really questioning what it meant to me. Now that light has become toxic, it is all that I can think about.

An artist, Olafur Eliasson, once built an installation where he fabricated the sun. I remember being impressed with the grandiosity of the work. A massive, luminous orange orb hung over a cavernous hall. There were no windows, but the “sun” made the enclosed space feel open and warm. Eliasson created artworks that made us think about our relationship with light. His works used the immersive spectacle of art to take us out of our everyday experiences, to give us perspective and make room for contemplation. I wonder what those sun-lovers contemplated when they themselves became part of the work. Museum-goers lounged and stretched out on the floor as though sunbathing. I think about “bathing” in the sun, being cleansed by light. Feeling alive and fresh in the glow. How powerful that even the fake sun of an art installation elicited this response. It spoke to a particular relationship humans had with the sun, back before the FOSdeaths. For thousands of years, poets and artists used light to evoke joy and wisdom. I think of the words used to describe wisdom, play with them in my mind: enlightenment, insight, illumination. Light was used as a metaphor for our creative understanding of the world. The living had a sweet connection to light back then. Light was life. This artwork was exhibited in London, a city known for its cloudy, gloomy weather. Those visitors were starved for the sun as, day after day, they trudged through drizzling rain. So starved, that they ironically went to an indoor art exhibit to experience the power of the sun. Of course they luxuriated in the radiant luminescence. But, that was before.

What would we think of Eliasson’s installation now? Imagine the horror this work would evoke. Our relationship with light and dark has become psychologically complex. Photosensitivity creates a reactive photophobia which leads to sensory hyper-awareness and the position of feeling vulnerable in our own world.Newer perceptions battle with memories of light in safer times. Desire for and aversion to light coexists for Photo-sensitives (or “Photosens”, as we call ourselves.). We are alienated in a new world of sublime danger. We are never in control but instead are subject to the power of Nature. That which gives life, now also destroys.

 

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