The Shadow Paradox
by Brianna Burke
There is a stretch of road on Summerfield Street here in Lebanon where the streetlights run out until the next road. This stretch of the road falls into near-complete darkness at nightfall, leaving you with the simple quiet of the graveyard beside the road and the silence of the stars above. Normally, that stretch of darkness might be foreboding or misgiving, ; a threat of the unknown. After all, who knows who or what could be lurking in the shadows when the streetlights run out? While that may sometimes be true, the 200 feet of shadow on this street is rather a reinstatement of modesty. The patch of dusk on Summerfield Street is ultimately paradoxical to the domineering nature of material life. Without the streetlights to silence the night sky, the constellations become all the more present, a reminder of the higher world.
It’s a shame, isn’t it? Humanity has fallen so in love with material production and capitalistic power that we need to be reminded of where we live in our solar system and our place in the universe. The foundational needs for everyday life, such as lights, create a world that forgets our transcendental connections to the stars. It is a world so blinded by industry and commodity that the infinite universe becomes a subtlety. The stars stand as a beautiful enigma to our egotistical civilization, and reduces us to our diminutive and original state. It’s what I like to call the shadow paradox. What this paradox entails is humanity’s belief that we may take a god-like approach to our society by reinventing nature’s thresholds, and in turn forgetting our true place in the vast cosmos.
Coming from a big oil town in Northern Canada, I grew accustomed to living in a place where the stars were never quite as present as they should be. The pollution clouds from the oil sands would place a contaminated curtain over one of humanity’s only signs of humility. Consequently, I would often forget to appreciate the overarching reminder of our microscopic role in the universe. I am therefore not here to place myself on a pedestal of environmental superiority, given that I am equally as culpable of falling prey to the commodified conveniences of life, such as succumbing to the environmental ignorance created by pollution. Global warming as a whole has reached a point of no return, a point that makes the prospect of mass exodus more appealing as opposed to putting in a true effort to preserve the planet that we currently occupy. Neither situation would be easy, but leaving the planet would be much simpler than reversing generations of environmental damage. The “simplicity” of the former option encapsulates our governments.
Humanity likes to believe that their morals include compassion, love, and care for others. But unfortunately, those in power possess a different agenda: convenience, commodity, simplicity - all of which do not allow for a mere adjustment of streetlights, for example, so as to not disrupt the original condition of the universe. Of course, a mere remark on how life’s artificial simplicities interfere with the natural state of the night sky may seem trivial. After all, some of the only emotions this reminder can evoke are those of disappointment and hopelessness. However, while environmental advocacy should be on everyone’s agenda, a simple reinstatement of universal modesty is the first step in the right direction for foundational means of change. So, the next time you walk down a gravel road without streetlamps, humble yourself. Look up and remind yourself of your place.