I am uneasy at dusk. The early darkening of the sky obscures my vision, and the edges of the images around me blur in the descending sun, not yet illuminated by the moon. Shadows are cast in a way that shortens distance, trees nod at ominous angles. Seasonally, dusk brings the invasive biting of mosquitoes or a sudden chill in the air. Even the sounds change — evening insects screech, or the wind calls. Time is simply passing through another day, but I long to escape to a brightly lit, contained space that makes me feel safe.
I crave the clarity of easy sight, of perceiving what is before me, and behind. Not knowing what may be hidden in the shadows creates a physical response — I breathe less deeply, move more quietly, hesitant to disturb whatever is unknown, and very possibly, unwanted.
It has always been this way for me, this physical and psychological discomfort in things that are shadowed by the evening hour. The metaphor is not lost on me.
At what age do we imagine we are inhabiting our own personal dusk? None of us knows the days that are given us. Will our night wait to fall at 95 years of age? 85? 75? Or will evening come unexpectedly, like a storm blackening the sky in the late afternoon? Youth gives way to middle years as we hurry through time, building careers and raising children and planning futures. Some find openings in their busy lives to seek a kind of spiritual awakening, or develop some nascent understanding of a larger picture, striving to understand a personal place in that universal vastness. But oh, the arrogance of believing we know. Or is it faith? Oh, the slightest darkening of our own evening sky. When do we realize that the discomfort of not knowing what lies ahead is amplified by the absolute knowledge that darkness will come, perhaps not for many years, but perhaps tomorrow?
Learning to surrender is so hard. But the tighter our grasp, the firmer the hold of the unknown. A clenched fist cannot receive the gifts it is offered, blessings cannot be seen through eyes squeezed shut and arms wrapped tightly across constricted chests. There must be a way to soften to the darkness and adjust our vision to the filter of the evening sky. To submit to what we do not know, and find an uneasy peace in the setting sun. The black of night is not upon us just yet, though its certainty may be a guidepost. Now is the time, it tells us. Do not wait to act. Do not wait to speak, to hear, to love. In the coming darkness, silhouettes draw near. Are they shadows of ourselves, or spirits beckoning? Step in. This is the reward. We may find a strange and unexpected freedom in this place — a new and truthful way of being. A dusky vision may reveal a different kind of beauty. The shadows may open our eyes to layers of grace.
Stefanie Levine Cohen is a writer and community leader who focuses on building connections through the sharing of story. Her fiction and essays explore the intersection between the psychological and the spiritual, and address life transitions and the human condition. Her work has been published in numerous literary magazines and digital publications including The MacGuffin, The Montreal Review, Green Hills Literary Lantern, Storyscape, Grown & Flown and JewishSacredAging.com. These pieces and others can be found at www.stefanielevinecohen.com. Stefanie is currently working on a book about motherhood, identity, art and the meaning of truth.
Stefanie’s community engagement includes leadership roles at a variety of spiritually based, educational, and service-driven organizations. She is a co-founder and board member of the non-profit Meditation4Leadership, which seeks to enhance both performance and wellness among business, nonprofit and community leaders. She is a former trustee on the board of Moorestown Friends School and a current board member of the Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Southern New Jersey. She also serves as a Leadership Council member for Impact100 South Jersey, a women’s philanthropic giving collective, and is a Past President of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ. For many years, she volunteered as a friendly visitor and end-of-life vigil team member for patients at Samaritan Hospice and Health Care. This experience significantly impacted her writing and teaching.
Always a student first, Stefanie has been a member of the Rittenhouse Writers Group, the longest-running fiction writers group in the country, for over 15 years. She has studied with teachers such as Sylvia Boorstein, Deepak Chopra, and John Perkins, and has attended numerous writing and spirituality retreats and conferences. These experiences fueled the development of her signature memoir writing workshop, “Telling Your Story, Writing From the Heart,” which she has facilitated for new and returning students.
Stefanie holds BA and MA degrees in English Literature from the University of Pennsylvania and a JD from New York University School of Law. Before turning her attention to writing, teaching and volunteering, Stefanie enjoyed a successful career in marketing and strategic planning for law firms, establishing the first Philadelphia branch of the National Association of Law Firm Marketing Professionals and serving as a Chief Marketing Officer for a large Philadelphia-based law firm. Stefanie resides in Moorestown, NJ with her husband Steven. They are the parents of three adult children.