Thursday, August 18, 2011

Out of the Darkness

The sun was shining as we stepped out of the car and walked the brief expanse across the warm, asphalt parking lot. My sister, Deb, and I had spent the morning at the Seattle Gift Show and we had driven across town to check out the permanent showrooms. The trip had taken us on the city streets through the commercial warehouse section of the city that we’d never seen. As we stepped up on the sidewalk, Deb notice the flowering trees and leaned into to it to check out the beautiful, white blossoms. The trees were located on the western side of the building, close to the awning which only provided it with afternoon and late afternoon sun. As a result, the trunks on the trees each had a distinctive bend to them…appearing to reach to the sunlight to the west.

“You know why the trees are leaning to the west, don’t you?” I asked my sister.

“Well yes,” she responded. “Plants always grow toward the light.”

“Actually the light is retarding the growth, I replied. "The growth is actually taking place on the dark side of the plant. The light is actually preventing the growth."

My comments stopped her in her tracks. I had taken college Botany close to 30 years ago and I remembered performing the experiments in the lab where light was only provided to a plant on one side and we would monitor the growth of the cells. In other experiments, we would measure the growth of plants where they had light 24 hours a day or where we would deny the plants light at all. What we discovered was that plants will grow faster then they don’t have any light at all…for a while anyway. If the light is restricted long enough, the plants will die. I know now my explanation wasn't completely scientifically correct, but it is the dark side that is actually growing taster.

As we drove back to Tacoma later that day, we talked about the light…and darkness…and growth. It is amazing when we think about the interaction that occurs between those three elements. And not only in plants, but in our lives as well.

Like many people, one of my phobias is the fear of the dark. I really think that it is a natural, innate fear in most of us that gets reinforced in a variety of ways throughout our life. For me, I had plenty of opportunities during my childhood to reinforce the fear. His name was Geoff (my little brother.) He seemed to take great pleasure in finding ways to startle…or outright terrify me in the dark on our farm in North Idaho. Eerie old barns and garages and trees gave him all the tools that he needed. Very few people like the dark.

But sometimes the seasons of our life can also be filled with darkness. They are times when we can’t see clearly what’s going on…or where we are headed…or what the future holds. I’ve been there more than once. The three years I spent in prison were one of the darkest times of my life. I saw a lot of men there who were slowly dying. Not in a literal sense, but dying nonetheless. They hadn’t learned the lesson of the plant.

An interesting phenomenon is actually occurring in the plant on the dark side…on the side away from the light. When the light strikes the plant, a hormone is produces that migrates to the cells located in the darkness. And this hormone causes an amazing thing to happen. It causes the plant cells on the dark side to stretch!! As a result, these elongated cells “bend” the plant toward the light (which we interpret as growing toward the light.) I love this lesson of nature because that’s what I need to do when I find myself in a season of darkness.

When we are surrounded by darkness, that’s when we have the opportunity to grow the most. We get stretched in ways we’ve never been torn before and find ourselves facing situations that we don’t have an answer for or an understanding of. The real growth in our lives occurs during the darkest times. It’s when we feel hated and ostracized that we can best learn to love and forgive. It’s when we are poor and have nothing that we learn the real value of giving…even if it means we give the last that we have. It’s when we are sickest that we appreciate what little health that we have remaining…or choose the live out the last days of our lives the best we can. It’s when we see someone that we love dying (or hear of their sudden death) that we examine the true value of every person’s life.

But like the plant, we have to allow the “light” that is there to stir within us the willingness to be stretched. We have to be willing to endure the dark season because it leads us to the light season. A time when our life flourishes and grows stronger. When we can celebrate the lessons and changes that occurred in the darkness. A time that we can let our light shine into the lives of those who find themselves in the dark.
Photo from Bing Images


Deb Shucka said...

Thank you so much for writing this. While our memories of the details of the day might differ a bit, the learning we brought from it is the same. My own experience of the the growth during darkness and the knowledge that it's meant to push me into the light is much enriched by your expression of our shared experience.

yaya said...

I came over from Deb's blog to read your version. Wow, you have opened my eyes and not only taught a lesson on plant life, but on real life. As I grow older I realize more and more how one can feel closer to God in a garden than anywhere else.

Retired English Teacher said...

Deb sent me over to read this. Wow! You have taught us a great scientific lesson. It is true, when times are the darkest, that is when we reach for the light and grow the most.

Wanda said...

Wonderful reflection. Reflections need light, too.

Wanda..... said...

Wonderful post!
Nature and Life writing at it's best!

Journaling Woman said...

I'm over from Deb's blog. It's great reading both your takes on a similar experience.

Me too!!! I'm scared of the dark. I read recently that children are frightened of the dark until around seven or eight years old when they typically begin to grow out of that fear. I don't know where I missed the train, but I'm still a little (a lot) scared of the dark.

Great post!


Anonymous said...

Dear Mark,
I've come to your blog from Deb's and I can see that I'm going to come back again and again.

Thank you for this science lesson. It explains so clearly why learning begins in darkness and grows into light--the light of understanding and growth within every living thing and within our souls and spirits.

The mystery for me is why when darkness camps about us, sometimes we grow from it and sometimes we resist change.

You spoke, Mark, of a "willingness," to accept the promptings of darkness. I know that's true, but where does that willingness come from? Is it a part of our personality that comes from the joy or the trauma of our childhood?

I'd be interested in your thoughts on that.

Dee Ready said...

Mark, I don't know why my comment came up as anonymous. I'm still somewhat new to this blogging business and so I'm even having a hard time learning how to be a member of a blog. I end up as a follower! Well a rose by any other name! Dee

Linda Hoye said...

I'm here from Deb's blog too. It's fascinating that this principle of growth is manifested so beautifully in nature. It's also interesting that many of us, myself included, did not know about this until we read either Deb's post or yours. Isn't it also true that for many of us it takes time and wisdom to understand that it is in those dark times when we experience the most profound personal growth.

Thank you for this post.

Lilith said...

Wow. It puts a whole new perspective on darkness and the necessity of it. Thank you.

Jessica Nelson said...

This is absolutely awesome. Thank you so much to both you and Deb for posting this. Wow. I never knew this and it's just fascinating. I love how the natural world mirrors the emotional and spiritual. Very cool how God works.

Sandi said...

Wow, Mark! I really appreciated your thoughtful explanation of growth taking place in the dark. Now I know why the plants still thrived (for awhile) when we did an investigation in class last year with lettuce seeds. We didn't get that the ones in the closet should grow at all. And, sadly, I couldn't explain it to my students. Now, I can, thanks to your clear explanation.

I also loved your real life examples of dark times bringing growth. I've had a summer of struggling in darkness, but I'm seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, and I know I'll be grateful for the hard times someday.

It's been so thrilling to see how much Deb enjoys being a part of your life, working with you in your antique space, searching for treasures, and appreciating the treasure of your relationship.

Hopefully, I can get back up your way again with Deb on another antique adventure.

deborahjbarker said...

What a truly valuable lesson you have taught in this post. I too am visiting from Deb's blog. My childhood fear of the dark never left me completely but I do relish the dark when alone. I could write more but you have said it all so well!
Thank you :-)

Desiree said...

I have come across from Deb's blog and, after having read this, I felt compelled to join up as a follower. Such great insights the two of you have shared with us.

My older boy cousin frightened me in the dark at around age 4. Up till then, I'd apparently shown absolutely no fear and my parents said I used to happily ride my tricycle around the garden until last light. I remained fearful of the dark for a great many years and, it is only now, in my mature years that the fear has dissolved and I once more feel comfortable in the dark (not pitch black darkness, though!)

Wendy said...

Wandered here from your sister's blog. It was great to read both posts!

Hold my hand: a social worker's blog said...

Your post brought tears to my eyes. The reflection and analogy is so deep that made me think of my own "dark times" in life--and now I understand better the "growth."

This is a coincidence, but I was actually writing a story (a future blog story) about a homeless man, and how he pulled himself out of his "darkness" and I quoted part of the Psalm 23:

"He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil."

Thank YOU and DEB for sharing our powerful reflection.