Seeking enLIGHTenment | Front Porch | Indy Week

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Seeking enLIGHTenment

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It's the lights that bother me. Those ridiculously optimistic, brightly colored lights that shine dimly through the cold winter nights.

Now we enter the dark time of year, when the sun hides to the south and stays low in the sky. The days are short, and the nights stretch out with shadows that seem to overtake our footsteps much too early. The darkness follows us so closely as the year withers away. It's only natural to seek enlightenment.

Early humans, lacking utilities, must have burned great fires and many candles to chase away the long shadows. The end of harvest was thought to be the time when the veil between the worlds was thinnest; when passage between them was most likely. The dark time of year followed so closely after reaping, the pattern of light/life and dark/death must have been much on their minds. A harsh winter night could well bring passage to the next world for the unprotected and unprepared. It's no wonder that a time of thanksgiving would fall between the harvest and the darkness. And it's no wonder that the longest nights would become a festival of lights.

And what lights they are. Certainly no beeswax candles in any number could begin to compare to a split level outlined and festooned with glowing Santas and backlit reindeer. What ancient lantern could ever glow as brightly as the snowman outlined with 200 tiny bulbs on sale at Wal-Mart?

This gain in choice and freedom must have some cost, but it's not readily apparent. Energy consumption apparently is no issue in a time of falling commodity prices. With oil prices down at the end of a troubled travel season, consumption is seen as patriotic. And certainly only a horrid Grinch would quibble about the environmental impact of our holiday displays. Those tiny little lights, while numbering in the millions, add only a small amount to the average electric bill.

With the glow of the electronic hearth burning brightly, who ever looks up any more? The stars our ancestors looked to for knowledge have been replaced by cable TV. And who can see them since the city put in streetlights? Generations have simply forgotten them. A thousand moons have gone unnoticed.

Why don't I like the lights? Perhaps I simply can't believe in them. Perhaps it's the holiday season itself that seems debased and distorted to me. Or maybe, I'm just comfortable with the dark.

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