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Darkness Defines the Light
Agnes perched like an old buzzard on the railing of her porch. The crisp northern air was laden with the scent of pine and wildflowers. Rocking back and forth in a rickety bentwood rocker, I watched Crow peck bread crumbs off the ground. He scolded me, cawing, and turned his head, watching me with his yellow eye. I had arrived at her cabin in Manitoba the day before, and I was grateful just to sit.
Agnes, wearing a jean skirt and a bright red blouse with her gray hair in thick braids, held up a tiny crystal to a ray of sunlight streaming through branches of a poplar tree. Suddenly, a burning flash of prismatic light, laserlike and profoundly bright, ricocheted off the crystal and into my eye. My head thumped back against the rocker as I yelled, "Good grief, Agnes, that hurt!"
"Sometimes the light can be too bright, too painful to look at."
"No kidding," I said, rubbing my eye.
Agnes, her Native American face creased and weathered from the years, settled her hands in her lap and looked off in the distance. "So," she continued, "if you can't yet adjust to the light of something, you perceive it in another way."
"What are you getting at?" I asked.
Agnes rubbed her belly. "You open your body-mind and perceive light like Ruby does. She absorbs light and shadow through her intent and has learned to see that way with her blind eyes. That's why no one is more aware than Ruby. There is nothing that she cannot seeeven in total darkness. For her, there is always light, and it can no longer be taken from her."
"That's nice,Agnes," I said, "but you could have warned me."
"Sometimes a truth has to hurt a bit to be remembered." Agnes swirled the leaves in her mug of tea, poured out the liquid, and dumped the wet leaves into the palm of her hand. "Close your eyes," she ordered, "and lean back." Gently, Agnes placed a poultice of herbal tea leaves over my eyelid. "Does that help?" she asked, poking me in the ribs.
"Yes, yes," I said gratefully, relaxing as the heat penetrated and soothed my eye. "Thank you."
Several minutes passed as I sat in my self-imposed darkness.
"Can you see what I'm doing?" Agnes asked. I heard her feet shuffling on the worn floorboards of the porch.
"Of course not, Agnes," I said.
"Can you tell what I'm doing now; can you see me now?"
"I can tell that you're moving around, Agnes, but all I can see is darkness."
Agnes paused in silence for a moment. Then I heard her voice farther away and above, as if she were perched on the roof.
"When you see only darkness, you can perceive almost nothing that is happening around youit's as if you are blind, even with your eyes open."
"Okay," I said, still not getting it.
"It's very simple," Agnes said. "The light, sunlight or wisdom, illuminates what is there. Simple and trueignorance is born from not seeing what is there in front of you. When you live in the darkness of your soul, you cannot see the truth, a chair, an idea, or whatever is in existence for your benefit."
I sat for a long time, following Agnes's idea like a thread in a weaving. Finally, I swept the tea leaves into my hand and opened my eyes.
I was stunned to see that the moon was up and darkness had descended on the cabin. I heard a crow in the distance. Agnes was nowhere to be seen. I had an odd tugging sensation in my stomach, as if something very important was about to happen.