In the gloom
The shortening of the days accelerates as the September equinox draws nearer, each evening the sunset comes a couple of minutes earlier. Loath to concede to the approach of autumn, there is a reluctance to turn on the electric lights, it is preferable to cling on to the last light of evening as long as possible.
Memory drifts back to an evening more than thirty years ago, to the opening months as a curate in a large parish with constant pressure to knock at doors, to visit as many families as possible, to be as present as possible to anyone who might wish to see me, for whatever reason they might wish. Knocking at the door of a house at the edge of a large housing estate, an ageing man welcomed me in. His wife cleared a chair and invited me to sit down while her husband went off to the kitchen and reappeared with mugs of tea and biscuits.
It was September and the long days of June in Ulster were no more than a memory. There was a chill in the evening air and the man set a match to the fire that had been set in the grate. We sat and talked and sipped tea. The couple were local and had long memories of the place in which they grew up and the people whom they had known. Finding oral history more interesting than the bleak theology of Protestant Ulster, it was easy to sink deep into the old armchair and listen to the stories.
The light outside faded and the sky became dark and the man apologised that we were sitting talking by the light of the fire, but that he did not like to turn on the electric lights unless it was necessary to do so. When the time came when I had to excuse myself and head home, he finally pressed down one of the light switches. The atmosphere changed completely, it was if a spell had been broken. Returning to the house on another occasion, during the hours of daylight, there was no sense of the camaraderie that had existed on that September evening.
It is odd that the absence of light can have the power to create a sense of a bond between people. Perhaps it arises from a sense of anonymity, perhaps it is a recalling of some primeval feeling of solidarity created when our forebears had only a fire for light. Electricity will never have the evocative power of flickering flames.
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