The silence of the sun: embracing beauty in life’s shadows

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, May 29, 2014

The long shadows cast by the late-morning sun on the exterior of Arrowhead Veterinary Centre teased this columnist into exploring the almost-hidden beauty of flowers in a mural. Photos by Warren Harbeck

How can the sun be silent? To borrow a line from the classic age of radio drama, “The Shadow knows!”

It was just before noon when I stopped by Coffee Traders the other day. Spring had finally arrived in all its glowing glory. As I was about to enter, I noticed an intriguing shadow on Arrowhead Veterinary Centre’s muralled wall overlooking the green space between the two businesses.

The shadow consisted of dark diagonal and vertical lines intersecting against the otherwise bright background. Predictably, thinking I’d add the high-contrast moment to my shadow collection, I took a photo, the image at the left in the accompanying graphic.

But then something unexpected happened. After my eyes adjusted to the dimmer area of the shadow, a whole new experience greeted me. The shadow was perfectly framing a colourful floral detail from the mural, at first barely visible because of the surrounding glare and the distraction of a utility meter, vent and downspout.

So I took another photo, this time focusing tightly on the bottom half of the shadow, adjusting the exposure accordingly, and intentionally overexposing the rest of the wall. The image to the right celebrates the subtle beauty that revealed itself.

As serendipity would have it, I received an email the same day about a different kind of silence.

A close – and very chatty – friend of mine was recovering from a concussion and was experiencing a whole new dimension to life: silence – doctor-prescribed weeks of total silence: no visitors, no coffee conversations, no phone calls. Just speechless silence!

In my response to her email I included the pair of photos accompanying this column. (She’s quite a photographer in her own right, and tolerates my feeble attempts.)

She responded by assuring me she was well cared for and safe and that she was “indeed learning much from the silence and its many gifts.” Further, like me, she saw the photos as especially relevant.

“We need to stop. And look,” she said. “And embrace the beauty of the silent spaces. Wherever – and whyever – we find it.” She was discovering a whole beautiful non-spoken world, she said, adding: “I am deeply thankful for this chapter! In other words, this silence is no burden. It truly is a gift from God.”

This encounter with shadow and silence gave me a deeper appreciation for the wisdom of contributors to our recent series on Alzheimer’s. As Jim Monk put it at the end of last week’s column:

“What’s lost is lost. You have to celebrate what’s left. All potential happiness is still there.”

Yes, even within the shadows of Alzheimer’s, beauty may be lurking.

That doesn’t mean Alzheimer’s itself is beautiful. Contrary to the title of the hit song from the 1970s, not everything is beautiful in its own way. But within the shadows there may well be some previously unseen beauty just waiting to be engaged and embraced.

The iconic deaf-blind 20th century American author, political activist and lecturer Helen Keller put it this way:

“Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence, and I learn, whatever state I may be in, therein to be content.”

I’m sure many of us have experienced our own shadowy silences from which we’d love to emerge. Yet, longing to see the light at the end of the tunnel, we find none. Perhaps that’s when we ourselves must become the light – for ourselves and for those around us?

As The Christophers’ motto declares: “It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.”


© 2014 Warren Harbeck

Return to Coffee With Warren home page