My neighbor’s elderly aunt was sitting alone in the shade of the sycamore tree. She appeared to be in her 80s and kept moving her chair away from the sun into the shadows of the overhanging branches bending in the gentle breeze of the sunset.
I was sitting under the same tree and asked if I could join her; she agreed and was extremely talkative. In an hour I heard her life story and knew her every ailment, medication and doctor she was seeing. It seems when we get old that’s all we talk about. Sadly, at the end of the conversation, she said she was ready for the grim reaper to guide her through the shadows of darkness towards the eternal light, ending her terminal illness called life.
For some reason, the conversation brought back a nostalgic memory in my melancholy psyche. I remembered a conversation with my own Aunt Anne many years ago. She was approaching 90 and painfully waiting for the arrival of that same reaper. I was in my mid-teens and didn’t know what to say to her. Instead, I asked her to tell me something about her life. She explained that her life was like living in the deception of a shadow. And, like a shadow, her life was never what it appeared to be and she always seemed to be going in opposite directions. It only took me 60 years to understand what she meant.
The reality of a shadow is the illusion of light. Shadows hide behind opaque objects, obstructing light searching to find its own identity and awareness. Light would never know it existed if not for shadows.
Shadows are distorted shapes. The dimensions of shadows are completely different than the forms they imitate. They are silhouettes resulting from reverse projections of anything blocking light. Renaissance artists were aware of reverse projection. They placed the subjects in their portraits between direct light and the canvas and traced the outline of their models, creating a more realistic impression. That explains why most everyone in the paintings was left handed and had large shoulders. Even the animals were on the left side of the canvas. In da Vinci’s “Last Supper,” Christ is looking down to his left and his left shoulder is somewhat larger than his right. This was at a time when the Catholic church was still burning Christians at the stake for using mirrors.
Reverse projection is more evident during sunrise and sunset. As the sun rises in the east, new extended shadows are formed in the west. At midday they’re almost invisible and by sunset, after their long diurnal journey between opposing horizons, they return to their point of origin only to fade away and live again on the other side of world.
At times, like a shadow, life does seem to be a distorted illusion. As teenagers we have illusions of high goals. We feel we know everything. We‘re indestructible. We’re going to get a good education, wait until we are 30 to start a family and retire at 45. And we are not going to make the same mistakes our parents did. By the time our shadow is 21, our first mistake arrives on time at Saint Mary’s. By 30 we have three kids, are working for $5 per hour above minimum wage, have no formal education and hope Social Security is in our future when we reach 70.
In the shadow of age our memories always seem to somehow get exaggerated or distorted. Three people can relive something that happened 40 years ago and each one will have a different version of the story.
Shadows are symbols reminding us of our journey in time. As long as there is light we will always exist within our shadow of illusions that will never end. Shadows never completely disappear. They wax and wane until they find new horizons of reality on the other side of time. We create our own shadow and decide if it will be a reality beyond illusion or just a distorted dream.
My Aunt Anne might have been right. Our shadow is with us every day. It’s an extension of ourselves. It’s comprised of different dimensions, shapes and forms depending where we take it. It can be stationary, swim in moving water or dance in front of a roaring campfire. Sometimes it seems to have a mind of its own. Maybe life is just the biography of our shadow.
David Farside is a Sparks resident and political activist. The polemics of his articles can be discussed at firstname.lastname@example.org. His Web site is www.thefarsidechronicles.com.