January 7, 2016

The following is the address that the ever inspiring, ever wonderful Lin Bartlett-Taylor gave at the 2015 CFI–Western New York Winter Solstice Celebration. With her permission, we are publishing the text of the address here.



I wonder who among us has no concern when the lights suddenly go out.  We are reliant on power for our safety, entertainment, communication and information and light.  Most of us can remember massive grid malfunctions which kept us in the dark for days.  Perhaps we can sympathize with our distant ancestors who feared the sun would not return. (Seriously, don’t you think that there was someone in the group of sun worshipers who absolutely knew the sun was coming back and played on the fears of the others in the tribe?…a prehistoric Republican no doubt). Now, we know all about the sun and fear the loss of our artificial lights.  When the lights go out our lives are on hold.  We fear that perhaps this time, they will not come back on.    Fears grow in the dark.

I have never been afraid of the dark, perhaps because my sister is blind.  To empathize with her world I often walked about with my eyes shut, and have the scar on my chin to prove it.  As Shelley Segal so beautifully states:  “When I’m in the dark I’m not afraid of creations imaginations have made.”  I navigate my homes without lights, dislike lights on in empty rooms, detest the bright glowing eyes of green, red, blue, yellow that spy on me from our many electronics.

When the power is out, I like my firelight for heat and cooking and general atmosphere.  There is a reason that candlelight dinners are so romantic.  An Irish proverb states:  “Firelight will not let you read fine stories, but it is warm and you won’t see the dust on the floor.” (Nor wrinkles on the face either.)

My books have never lost power.  I have misplaced them and dropped them in the tub but I don’t have to keep plugging them in to read.  I imagine Lincoln studying by firelight. (Two of my students spent a snow day reading with me and begged me not to tell anyone; I agreed if they would agree not to tell anyone I swore.)

When my family moved from the village where the streetlight was adequate for post bedtime reading to the country with no light, I could practically taste the new darkness.  And I liked it. I heard an owl outside my window and knew I was home.

When I had to move my own kids to the country, I wanted them to also be without fear.  I initiated dark walks…their father, a Republican fighter pilot, spoiled that by being afraid of the dark.

At least once a month we had an evening off the grid.  At the cottage I took my grandchildren on dark walks outside where we walked the silent roads, stopped to listen, felt the dark on our skin.  Nothing to fear here.

I like to paddle under the moon in my canoe.   One night glorious blobs of light outside my window resolved into fireflies when I corrected my myopic eyes.  I went out to greet them.  There was lightning in the distance and bright stars above.  These are the lights I enjoy.  I felt blessed.

So I understand seeking that kind of light that can be the sister of the dark, not its adversary.

My sister pressed her fists to her eyes to produce the phosphene hallucinations of light flashes and color.  We see them too, as well as the stars when we are hit on the head or sneeze.  As time went on her light perception faded and I mourned with her the day she had to ask if the sun were shining on her. No vision solstice this.

Artificial light gives us the expansion of our workable hours and increases our productivity.  You would have thought that clean, cheap electric light would have been accepted by all as a universal good.  Nope.  When the lights went on in Woodstock NY in 1924, the older residents insisted it would not be good for us or perhaps would show all that dust on the floor?  There is some truth in their suspicions. Artificial light changes our sleep patterns and affects our hormones.  There are plants on the side of my garden which do not grow in the glow of my neighbors’ perpetual light.  The same fear of change is in North Carolina now where people vetoed solar panels because they would soak up the sun.

When I was looking for quotes about light I was reminded how thoroughly the Bible has usurped this word.  Light is given as a gift to those who believe correctly. (Turning on the switch seems simpler to me and has fewer strings attached), but I have been told that we freethinkers have nothing comparable to offer.  We do.

We have the lamp of knowledge.  Ben Franklin said that the lighthouse is more useful than a church. Think of how often we brights equate light to intelligence and rail against dimwits.  The light bulb over a person’s head symbolizes new ideas (firelight in caves?)

While I do not fear the physical dark,  I do have concern for the darkness of thinking I find, especially now that our politicians are spewing it.  Dark minds are more effective in changing the quality of our lives than bullets. We need to take back the light from those who want us to stay in the dark. My preference is enlightenment, not the dark ages.

So I am making a resolution for the new year.  I call it hear something, say something.

I am not a great thinker nor a public figure, and I do not think I can change the world.  But in my little corner of the world, I need to start shedding some light.  I live in East Pembroke.  I have had a doctor tell me that I need to vote Republican.  I have to listen to Fox News while waiting for surgery.  People leave me notes on my windshield inviting me to go to hell because of my bumper stickers. A lady at the library cheerfully told me that our president is a Muslim.

As we greet the solstice, I think I need to find kind ways to spotlight willful ignorance.  I need to step out of my own shadows and speak up.

{I’ll pray for you…I’ll think for you
Finger…whipping the bird is faster than Praying for the man who nearly ran us down.
Crossed finger…tell Minister Mike that it is an ancient sign of christianity
Slap a teacher…if she did not teach you the difference between climate change and weather
Former student and guns…ask if he wants Mrs. Burns in the classroom with a pistol
This little light of mine…tell Zumba lady why I don’t like dancing to Bible quotes}

These are my baby steps to courage but to quote Ben Streetland, “We cannot hold a torch to light another’s path without brightening our own. I want to draw people to my beautiful, bright, secular world where fantasy is not fact, truth not a contrivance and book learning is a proud thing.

After writing out a health family tree…I asked my mom why I am not an alcoholic.  She told me that she met dad and he showed her another way.   I’d like to show people another way to think.

Have you seen the holiday Microsoft commercial?  It is worth looking up.  There is a song I used to like before I found out why we shouldn’t be singing it in school.  I have changed the lyrics:

Let there be light on earth
And let it begin with me
Let there be light on earth
The truth that is meant to be 

With knowledge as our power
Human all are we
Let us walk out of darkness
In Hopeful harmony. 

et peace begin with me
Let this be the moment now
With every breath I take
Let this be my solemn vow

To take each moment and live each moment
In truth for all to see. (secularity?) 

Let there be light on earth and let it begin with me.


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