I have had the great fortune, for the last two years, of living next to one of the most beautiful parks in San Francisco. Stern Grove, rich in grand Redwoods, eucalyptus, and history. Twice a day, once at daybreak, once at dawn, Vinny and I traverse its many paths of both asphalt and dirt. These walks serve a dual purpose—it’s time to walk the dog and time to think and breathe deep the fresh cool-scented air.
This morning my thoughts were of something a Facebook friend said, “You take pictures of light.” Now this might sound like I’m some sort of moron, but, I hadn’t realized that is what I was doing. I stopped for a moment, pulled out my phone, which serves as my camera, and scrolled quickly though my pictures. Yup that’s exactly what I was/am doing. My next question was why, what is the allure of the light? I know this—I have visited the light many times.
When I was six years old, my family lived in Somers, New York, the address of which was RFD2. We lived on a hill in a huge stone-constructed home surrounded by two and a half acres, the pine-tree lined driveway of which was about an eighth of a mile long and led straight downhill to the main road. I was instructed in no uncertain terms to never sled down the driveway.
It was the winter of 1959, the conditions perfect for my Red Devil and I. I donned my winter gear, yelled at Ma that I was going out, grabbed my sled. The top of the driveway was a cul-de-sac with an island in the middle, a snow-covered island. I dropped my sled on the left side of that island flattened myself against the sled and pushed off with my hands.
Whoosh, the snow and ice made the going very fast. I sped past the tall snow cover pine trees, what a ride! Toward the end of the driveway was a pond, which is where, in my previous runs, I would turn the sled, and hit the snow bank which would bring me to a stop.
Not this time—I was going way too fast. As I sped towards the main road I could see a Chevy station wagon approaching. I flattened myself as much as possible.
There was a flash of light.
I had hit the snowbank of the other side of the road.
I had passed underneath the moving car. The car stopped a few yards from me, I stood dazed. The woman who was driving the car got out crying and screaming, “I killed you!” “Nope” was my reply. “I’m ok, just a chipped tooth.”
1985, the year from hell! Within a ninety-day period I would test positive for HIV and be told I had five, maybe, if I was lucky, seven years to live, my wife would leave me with two kids and I would become a single father, and, finally, I would be laid off from my engineering job. With hysteria rampant, I could talk to no one, the anxiety and stress palpable.
On this particular day I would put my three-year-old daughter down for a nap; exhausted and stressed I decided to follow suit. I lay on the couch; it didn’t take long before I was overcome with sleep. While asleep I had a dream. I found myself hovering above a giant oak tree, not flying, sort of suspended in space, a beautiful bright light shone in the distance, a voice that seemed to originate from the light beckoned me to it, “It’s OK, come into the light.” Nothing foreboding about it, a soft calm voice, neither male or female. I can recall feeling a sense of fear and trepidation as if instinctively I knew that if I entered the light I would no longer exist in the physical realm. Suddenly that voice said, “It’s not your time.” I awoke.
I have spoken with few people about my experiences with light; among those few I have shared my experience with, the common response has been what I perceive as having religious overtones, which I do not subscribe to.
There is beauty in light—I suppose one could also say there’s beauty in darkness. I, for one, choose the light. There is light in all of us at one point or another; it is dimmed by circumstance, greed, avarice, fear, and hate—all can extinguish the light.
So I smile and realize, I will always take pictures of light, for that’s where I dwell.
Michael Arnegger is an HIV long-term survivor living in San Francisco.