Although I love to read I am a very slow reader. As I go through a book, I pronounce each word in my head as if I were speaking it aloud. It takes me a long time to finish a book of significant length but if the book is good enough, it’s an endeavor I gladly pursue.
But I also enjoy the satisfaction that comes from finishing a story. Perhaps because of that satisfaction and because I am a slow reader, I am drawn to short stories. But I think that short stories are under appreciated these days which is a shame because short stories marry the best of the full length novel with the best of poetry. In a short story you have characters and plot and prose just like in a novel. But in a great short story there are things left out – things the reader must assume or imagine on their own just like in a poem. The writer must choose their words more carefully in a short story as in a poem. Done correctly, a short story has both the weight and the agility of a broadsword that can cut right through your malaise and leave you feeling as if you’ve just been reshaped.
A few years back I picked up an anthology called “The Best Short Stories of the Century”. While I was familiar with several of the stories in the book I had not heard of either Alice Elliot Dark or her short story In the Gloaming. I didn’t even know what a “gloaming” was or how you’d get in one.
|My office building isn't exactly breath taking, but I was charmed by it last night.|
I can’t tell you that I remember every line of this story or that the characters (a mother and her son who was dying from AIDS) made a huge impact on me. But I can tell you that I was enchanted by the feeling and the mood of this story. I learned that what I had always thought of as dusk or twilight is also called “the gloaming.” There was something about that word that I felt drawn to. It somehow gave new meaning to something I had experienced many times before. Knowing a new name for it gave it another level of mystery. Twilight was no longer that brief time after sunset but before total darkness. It now reminded me of this transforming story. It reminded me that our lives are sometimes strange and sometimes mundane, sometimes short and sometimes long, sometimes contemplative and sometimes we just don’t pay attention to the way life (or light) changes.
|It was half light and half dark and the leaves were half gone. Everything was in balance.|
Filmmakers call it “the magic hour”. I like that, but in my experience the magic lasts just a few minutes. And when I walk outside this time of year I am sometimes astounded to find that I have stepped into just the kind of lightness that I associate with the gloaming. It happened to me last night.
I felt lucky to be alive. I felt like standing in the parking lot until it passed. I felt alive and quiet and a bit giddy. I also knew, quite acutely, that too much of my life is being spent under a roof and away from windows. I need these moments of clarity and I need to keep making myself available to them.
I need to go for more walks. I need to stand out in the garden even when it is cold. I need to remember that our lives are meant to be inspired, that we are supposed to revel in the natural beauty of our planet, that we don’t need to capture or prolong these moments just as long as we keep looking for them.
|In brighter light, this plant looks forlorn, neglected and out of place. Last night it seemed like it was meant to be there.|