Shadow and Light

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Most every day, when I first wake up, I’ll reach out to stroke my dog’s back. Very often, she is already sitting up in the king-sized bed where we sleep, waiting for me to show signs that I’ve joined her in being awake.

She’ll accept my touch and curl up under my arm while I decide to leave the warmth of the quilt. She knows the routine, that my full readiness to embrace the day might take a few minutes.

I’ll try to guess what time it is by observing the light that is entering the room through the narrow space between the heavy curtains. I’ll give myself permission to linger.

I’ll look past the foot of the bed and take note of whether I closed my closet door last night. It always seems to be darker in my closet even if the room, itself, is dark. Its blackness feels kind of magical.

I guess I’ve always been fascinated by shadow and light.

I’ll pull on sweats and attempt to do some stretches in my living room. True to her nature, India seems to enjoy Downward Dog. I’ll feed her and we’ll take our morning walk. When we get back home, I’ll put the kettle on for tea.

The other morning, while my tea was steeping, I stepped out onto my back deck. I saw the sun, low in the eastern sky, sending out subdued but golden rays of light into my neighborhood — over the telephone wires, above Ravenswood’s red brick, three-story buildings built almost a century ago.

The light, kind of smoky in appearance, reached into the alleys along a small section of commuter train tracks in an easy, what-you-see-is what-you-get, way.

God, it was beautiful! It was beautiful to me.

I thought about Claude Monet attempting to capture the exquisiteness of light in his series paintings, like “Stacks of Wheat” or “Charing Cross Bridge.”  He’d paint the same scene at different times of day. I think he once said that “light” was the subject of any painting.

I decided to snap photos from my back deck at different times of day. What would I discover?

The tops of garages, the color of the sky, the presence or absence of clouds, signs of daily activity like neighbors heading to work, or school, or the store — all these things that were simply part of daily life, were beautiful to me.

When I gazed at my surroundings, I marveled at how the same shapes and objects were rendered new somehow because of the light that illuminated them.

I developed an understanding, or, perhaps, just came to a decision; to find beauty in shadow and in light. Acceptance and an appreciation for contrast made this a natural conclusion.

I have grown to believe that my darkest days — periods of loneliness, depression, and even physical limitation, like how I couldn’t walk for weeks following a car accident — fueled my appreciation for periods of elation or contentment.

Contrast serves as a reference point and can be helpful in many exercises of appreciation. It seems natural to appreciate some things simply because they’re not other things. They are what they are. And they’re unique.

The qualities of shadow and light don’t belong to an object. These qualities belong to the moment and my ability to perceive and appreciate what I am experiencing NOW.

Finding beauty, finding blessings, in both shadow and light is no small thing.

Re-printed with permission.

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  • Deborah Hawkins

    Deborah Hawkins has been blogging on gratitude and mindfulness for over a decade, posting over 500 essays. In December of 2019, she brought out two books, The Best of No Small Thing — Mindful Meditations, a collection of favorite blogs, and Practice Gratitude: Transform Your Life — Making the Uplifting Experience of Gratitude Intentional, a workbook on her process. Through her books, classes, and coaching, she teaches people how to identify things to be grateful for in everyday experiences. New blogs are posted every week. Visit her website: Follow her on SM.,

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