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  • Writer's pictureMarissa Villescas

Darkness and Light

(Originally posted on Summer 2021

Earlier this spring as I was going through things in the house to donate, I found myself contemplating an old cedar chest that for me held some sadness. Yet, I had kept it around to use in the garage and hold garden tools. In examining it, it seemed too good on the inside to just give away or discard. It should be used for what it was made for-to hold clothes, wool sweaters and precious family heirlooms. No matter what I felt about the box, it had good bones. So, Dan and I set out to transform it into something good for someone. The idea came as I was reading a poem by Mary Oliver, called “The Uses Of Sorrow” from her collection Thirst. It goes like this:

“Someone I loved once gave me

a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand

that this, too, was a gift.”

I literally had a box like this in my life. This box caused some mental anguish and sad memories. I had often wanted to leave it behind, or run away from it, but something kept me holding onto it. After reading Mary Oliver I started to think a bit deeper, (as one often does when reading her poetry). I thought maybe I could transform the box into a bit of artistic magic and give it away. So, my little creative soul started to ponder it more and more and began to sketch a plan. For the box we had sanded, primed, and then painted a base coat of dark blue.

The past year has been filled with heartache, sorrow and grief, but my faith in God assures me I'm always right where I need to be. Our family found comfort in the isolation of a rented farmhouse and the darkness of the countryside. There, in the night we let our hearts mend and our souls heal from life. The day brought its own set of problems but the comfort of the night was something nourishing. It was our first winter experiencing the “Big Dark” of the PNW, and by the time we were on the opposite end of that season, I saw the beauty through the darkness.

So, I started to sketch a night garden on paper, and then onto the box, complete with plants and early night moth visitors. Next went the barred owl we saw for a few nights as the sun set, and after the robins sang their bedtime song. The moonflowers we gave to our neighbor in a time of their own grief. The dreams of flowers and plants we had seed packets for but never got around to planting. I also added in our good friend the white crowned sparrow, because if you've ever had one live right outside your window, you'll know that it knows no difference between night and day because of where it’s from, and it sings at random times throughout the night. It always made us smile and feel so lucky to be included in their world.

I then began to see other quotes relating to darkness and night that spoke to us. Emily Dickinson’s quote (from her Letters) about being out with lanterns looking for oneself. The words from a Sleeping at Last song, "Uneven Odds," that helped us when both our best friends, our beautiful older dogs, passed away that says: “Darkness exists to make light fully count”.

The box wasn’t yet complete until one night in early April we witnessed the Tundra Swans and Snow Geese flying back home on their migratory path back to the Arctic and Wrangle Island. We loved to usher in the night on the upper deck and talk to the stars and night sky. We were witnesses to this wonder of nature.

So I added the last few elements on the box with paint, sealed it with beeswax and gave it to Abby for her 19th birthday. In that transformation I felt able to let my past go. The darkness I carried inside of me transformed as well, and in looking back, I see it was a gift.


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