“It’s not dark yet,
but it’s getting there” (Bob Dylan)
On the surface Bob Dylan’s song, Not Dark Yet, is depressing. Things are bad and they’re getting worse.
And yet, paradoxically, whenever I listen to it my soul is uplifted. It’s as if there is a light breaking through,
something akin to the Newgrange tomb in the Boyne Valley in County Meath being lit up on the shortest
day of the year. It’s as if the very fact of facing up to the truth of heading towards darkness is somehow a
victory over darkness. If we compare life’s journey to a passing day then we are all heading towards
darkness. At 3:00 in the afternoon it’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there. We may not be sick, but we’re getting
there. We may not have lost our memory, but we’re getting there.
We may not be confined to a hospital bed, but we’re getting there. We may not be in the grave, but we’re
getting there.
Facing up to the human condition
In the ancient (Western) world Stoics, Epicureans, Cynics all had their own philosophies for facing up to
the human condition, but they did so knowing deep down that death would have the last word. Seneca
wrote to his friend Lucilius: ‘You wish to live; well, do you know how to live? You are afraid to die. But come
now: is this life of yours anything but death?’ When the time came the best one could do was die nobly, even if
it meant suicide. When things got too dark to bear the only solution was to snuff out the light of life itself.
Today we are still struggling with the same darkness of the human condition, not just personally, but on a
global level. It’s not dark yet in our world, but it seems to be getting there: economic meltdown, catastrophic
climate change, a crisis in confidence towards democratic institutions, an apocalyptic refugee crisis. And
what will it be like when we do get there? When we are at the heart of darkness? Where will the light break
Truth and light walk hand in hand
We can have no certainty about this, but truth seems a good way to go. Truth and light seem to go together.
We speak of the truth shining forth. In Plato’s allegory of the cave, truth is identified with the light of the sun,
and appearance with the shadowy world of the cave. I remember being with my mother
when she received the results of a medical test telling her that her cancer was inoperable
and nothing more could be done. She had been battling with the cancer for over a year, not in denial, but doing her best to get on with life without morbidly dwelling on her situation. Shortly after an operation
removing part of her lung she was swimming in the Atlantic Ocean on a windy day in Kerry.
Now it was different, but different because her choices were so stark:
whether or not to embrace the truth of her terminal state. All those around her in those last months of her life were struck by her serenity and her never failing sense of humour. But that’s not the whole story.
She died just before Christmas and she spent her last days wrapping presents. She had embraced the truth of her situation, but with love.

Robbie Young (New City)

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