The facades of the buildings in Vilnius, Lithuania, are captivating, with peeling paint and doors covered in colorful bursts of blue, pink, green, and golden yellow and bricks crumbling where the building and sidewalk meet and graffiti scattered all over the ancient architecture. When I visited for the first time last summer, it looked to me like a movie set, like Hollywood’s impression of what an old Eastern European, former USSR city should look like.
My friend and I were staying on a busy street in the north part of town, in an apartment with high ceilings, tall doors, and antique remnants. Our front door, old, with peeling blue paint, was right off the bus and trolley line. Each time we returned from our adventures and opened that old door, we stepped into the dark entryway, through the small foyer, 15 feet into the building, and climbed to the third step before the light came on. The air was thick and cold, musty from an aged layer of dust and grime.
Walking through the blue door and into darkness, waving our hands for the few seconds it took the motion sensor to detect us and switch on the light, felt like it took minutes, hours even. This brief moment of doubt – doubt that maybe this time the light wouldn’t work, that maybe this time someone would be hiding in the darkness, that maybe we’d never find our way—began to feel like despair.
Our current circumstances make me recall the experience.
The nation is vastly divided, and there is great sorrow all around us: the sorrow of loss following natural disaster, the sorrow over hate of the marginalized, the sorrow of war ravaging the Middle East, the sorrow of political turmoil, the sorrow of sickness and death and failure. In many ways, no days have felt darker than these.
Where is the light?
In this waiting, I think of this poem from the beloved Rainer Maria Rilke:
You, darkness, of whom I am born–
I love you more than the flame
that limits the world
to the circle it illuminates
and excludes all the rest.
But the dark embraces everything:
shapes and shadows, creatures and me,
people, nations–just as they are.
It lets me imagine
a great presence stirring beside me.
I believe in the night.
Embracing the darkness is a common theme in the winter months. In “Advent Begins in the Dark,” Fleming Rutledge calls it “taking a fearless inventory of the darkness.” What does it mean to embrace the darkness, to live in the darkness, to take an inventory of the darkness?
It’s hard to talk about the darkness. It’s hard to be vulnerable to the darkest parts of ourselves, the things we’d rather not mention, the things we’d prefer to ignore. But we all have those dark places–every single one of us.
In the retail industry, a physical inventory count is a critical process for maintaining a strong internal controls system. Every director wants to believe proper procedure is followed, inventory records are correct, and there are no theft issues, but standard practice calls for a required count every quarter. Discrepancies are inevitable.
What would be uncovered in an inventory of my dark places? In what ways am I dishonest with myself and others? How have I caused pain towards another human being? What implicit biases do I have and how can I work to overcome their negative effects on the way I think, act, and speak? How am I untruthful to my calling? When have I cast aside someone marginalized by systemic oppression?
And how do I conquer insecurity to begin openly discussing these questions that I am trying to live into?
Rilke writes, as we live with our questions, we may “gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
As Advent begins I remember again what it felt like to walk through the blue door and feel the darkness around me. But rather than pushing forward in fear and urgency, I’ll take a little more time to dwell in the dark, to let it touch the deepest parts of me, so I can anticipate more fully the great anticipation of the light that is coming.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Written by: Elisabeth Fondell
Elisabeth Fondell is an emerging writer and potter living in the rural Midwest. She recently opened her first exhibit of essays and photographs exploring food and the human experience. Her work is published in Holl & Lane Magazine, Cosumnes River Journal, The Book Ends Review, Camas, COV Magazine, and more. See her work at elisabethafondell.com.