By Maria Popova
“One discovers the light in darkness, that is what darkness is for; but everything in our lives depends on how we bear the light,” James Baldwin wrote in one of his finest, least known essays.
In his exquisite memoir of the search for inner light, the blind resistance hero Jacques Lusseyran wrote in the same era: “Nothing in the world, not even what I saw inside myself with closed eyelids, was outside this great miracle of light.”
One morning, warmed by the light of dawn, the boy awakes overcome by the desire to touch the sun.
His mother tells him it’s impossible — the sun is far too far. His father tells him it’s impossible — the sun is too hot to touch. His older brother, sipping soda by his bike, meets the quest with indifference.
And so the boy decides to go by himself.
He closes his eyes and launches into the sky. When he lands on the sun, he bends down to greet her and she embraces him hello with her great yellow arms.
We see the boy peeking from the sky onto a beach scene as the sun shows him where she works.
We see him admiring a bright flower as she shows him “what she’s made.”
She showed me things that look her years to grow…
…and things that only lasted seconds.
Carrying the story is the quiet conversation between the black-and-white simplicity of Hayes’s pencil and the incandescent richness of her crayons, emanating the candor of a child’s drawing and the refined subtlety of an artist’s lens on the world — a world of contrasts in the act of being made on the page, like a young life still unwritten, yet to be colored in with living.
Before the boy leaves, he asks the sun one simple, immense question: Where does her light come from?
From inside, she tells him, touching his heart.
Suddenly, a bright inner sun comes ablaze within him — the light he always carried, “not too hot, but just right,” now found.
The sun inside began to shine outward. It made me feel brilliant with light, like I could wake up the world with just my touch.
So illuminated, the boy feels ready to return home and embraces the sun goodbye before flying back down to Earth, where he finds his mother mesmerized by the stunning sunset aglow outside.
She doesn’t seem to notice anything has changed in him. Nor does his father as he carries the sleepy child up the stairs.
But looking out his bedroom window into the night sky, the boy knows, the boy feels that the light is always and already there.
And if you are still searching for your own light, take rapturous assurance from Nina Simone:
Illustrations courtesy of Enchanted Lion Books; photographs by Maria Popova