Sunday Pages: "The Left Hand of Darkness"

A poem by Ursula K. Le Guin

THIS YEAR, the dog days of summer, when the sun is in Virgo, are for me a season of round-number anniversaries. Thirty years ago this month, I started my freshman year at Georgetown. Twenty-five years ago, my grandfather passed away, exactly two weeks after his 85th birthday. Twenty-one years ago, my wife and I moved in together (that’s not a round number, but it’s a boozy one). We are approaching the 20th anniversary of 9/11, which happened when we lived in Astoria, Queens, in the second apartment we occupied together. And on this very day, August 29, our youngest turns 15 (happy birthday, Milo!).

Milo turning 15 means that it’s been 16 years since Katrina made landfall. And now another major hurricane, named Ida, is expected to be the worst hurricane to hit Louisiana since before the Civil War when it strikes later today. That this is primarily befalling two states—Louisiana and Mississippi—that have among the lowest vaccination rates in the country is potentially apocalyptic. The hospitals in the Magnolia State are already full up; what happens to all those covid-wracked people on ventilators if and when the power goes out? Mississippi’s nihilistic governor, Tate Reeves—who has been just as staunchly pro-virus as his more-heralded counterparts in Florida and Texas—evidently believes they shouldn’t be afraid because Jesus will welcome them to Heaven. Which is not terribly reassuring.

What with Hurricane Ida and the other major weather events exacerbated by the climate change the GOP refuses to acknowledge, the fallen Marines in Afghanistan, the surging Delta Variant and whatever mutations come next, and the hordes of brainwashed antivaxxers who would sooner die than do their part to stop a global pandemic, one could be forgiven for going dark. It’s not all four Horsemen of the Apocalypse galloping along, but on days like this, it sure feels that way. Is the world really going to end because Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema are obdurate assholes? Because Ron DeSantis is a psychopath? Because Fox News is dishonest?

This is why I needed time away—to recharge my batteries, yes, but also to stave off the darkness. Because despite all the evidence to the contrary, I believe in the essential goodness of humanity. I believe in our collective intellect. I believe that when we work together, we can solve any problem. I believe in the triumph of the better angels of our nature. I believe that love will win the day. The name of this site is not “See? I Told You We Are Doomed.”

The simple truth is that you can’t have light without darkness. In her sublime science fiction novel The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin includes this short poem, which came to mind this morning. (“Kemmer” is the means by which the creatures on her distant planet reproduce):

Light is the left hand of darkness,
And darkness the right hand of light.
Two are one, life and death, lying
Together like lovers in kemmer,
Like hands joined together,
Like the end and the way.

We will get through this. We always have. We survived 1860-5 and 1941-5 and four years of a mob money launderer in the White House; we’ll survive this. We shall prevail. And we shall do so together.

Stay safe, Louisiana and Mississippi. Whatever happens, we got your back.

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Photo credit: First edition cover, courtesy ISFDB.