Lightly Child, Lightly (Take 2)

Thomas A. Edison was born in 1847, and on October 21, 1879, he invented the incandescent light bulb. I was born on October 21, 1947, one hundred years after Edison’s birth and on the sixty-eighth anniversary of his famous invention. By the time I discovered these facts, I was in my forties, but I had already developed a lifelong fascination with light.

Indeed, my first memory is of light dancing in the leaves of a tall tree in my grandmother’s front yard in Sparta, Missouri. Aunt Grace had placed me on my back on a blanket under this tree. I remember the sunlight sparkling through the changing colors of the fluttering leaves and the occasional patch of cloud shadow that affected everything. I didn’t have language, but I knew what I was watching was beautiful.

I remember nothing else about the first two years of my life, but I recall this as clearly as if it happened this morning. Light sticks in my memory that way. And ever since that seminal moment, dappled light has held the power to induce wonder in me.

I take note of shadows and sunspots and if a cloud crosses the sun. I stop to admire the sparkling dew on grass and flowers, the rainbows in lawn sprinklers, and the way certain kinds of light shine on birds’ wings or breasts. I notice my cat glistening in the sunbeams and the way light sparkles on nearby Holmes Lake. These minute alterations in light affect me emotionally and even spiritually.

When I swim, the parabolas of light dancing on the bottom of the pool make me happy. So does the way sunlight splashing through rain can paint my porch with light. When I see shafts of sunlight breaking through storm clouds, I pay attention. When we travel, it is light that most astonishes me. Light in the Sandhills of Nebraska, in Alaska, in San Francisco, and in all the mountain towns along the front range of the Rockies…

I am solar-powered. As a child, I spent every waking moment outdoors in the summer. I spent my mornings mixing mud pies, cookies, and cakes on wooden slabs under an elm tree. And I spent long afternoons and evenings in our municipal pool. That’s when I began reminding the other children to look at how sunlight twinkled on water.

I am fascinated by every kind of light—sunrise and sunset, light sparkling in fountains, and the light of celestial bodies. A prism anywhere makes my heart sing.

My memory is encoded by light. Whether I’ve been hunting for morels along the Platte or listening to my grandson Coltrane play music, I filter my experiences by quality of light. I can tell my story by simply remembering these lightscapes.

One of my favorite words is the Japanese word komorebi, which refers to the interplay of light and leaves as sunlight shines through trees. It has other meanings too. It can refer to a melancholic longing for a person, place, or thing that is far away. Or it can refer to impermanence. Dappled light shows us that what is here now will be gone in an instant. Nothing stays the same…

Komorebi describes our lives as we follow a path through a forest where the trees offer us both sunlight and shadow. Our journeys contain stories of loss and reunion, of despair and self-rescue. Most of us develop an identity that allows us to feel grateful in spite of our sorrows. We can feel a great sadness for our broken world yet still taste the spring strawberries or enjoy the smell of rain. Our hearts shatter into pieces, yet we hear the song of the cardinal and watch the exploding electricity of a thunderstorm…

To be happy the last few years, I have needed to grow. I have utilized every skill I know to find the light. And I have learned to look inside myself for the love I cannot find in the world. I’ve developed new rituals and routines and now feel a renewed appreciation for life as it is, not as I wish it to be. If the first part of my life was about building attachments, the last two years have been about learning to detach. I am making an effort to find the love and warmth I need in my own heart.

This book describes my experiences with both literal and metaphorical light. As a therapist for twenty-five years, I helped clients build more transcendent narratives and progress on their journeys toward a luminous life. I now hope to do that for my readers as well.

As a therapist, I had several tools. One was predicting positive outcomes for clients, since we often find what we are looking for. Another was listening for evidence of growth. When I could find that, I underscored it so that clients could see they were moving toward light. No matter how painful their situations, I always asked clients two questions: What did you learn from your experience? When you look back on this event, is there anything that you can feel proud of?

This last question was particularly useful for people who had experienced trauma. It enabled them to move from a feeling of victimization to an awareness of their small acts of heroism, which I learned were always present.

I helped people create more empowering life stories. Without stories, we are without a self. With only stories of loss and sadness we are unhappy people. However, we can all learn to craft healing narratives. We humans are heliotropic. With a little guidance, most people can move toward more resilient, more connected, and more light-filled lives.

This trajectory is my hope for you. My story is really everyone’s story. Yours will differ in its particulars, but the main themes of finding coping tools, appreciating beauty, and seeking transcendence are universal. We all must come to terms with impermanence and discover ways within ourselves to balance loss with joy. Let’s explore this journey toward the light together.

— A Life in Light: Meditations on Impermanence.” Bloomsbury Publishing, June 28, 2022”)


  • Don’t miss Pipher’s recent Essay in the NY Times titled: How I Build a Good Day When I’m Full of Despair at the World” (NY Times, June 28, 2022)
  • Post Title & Inspiration: Aldous Huxley: “It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them.”
  • Portrait via Liedcenter


  1. Wow – so much here to unpack! One word that spans the breath of definition from wonder and delight to loneliness. The encouragement to embrace all moments learning opportunities and learning to detach. I’m not sure I’m embracing all of it, but certainly love her emphasis on self-taught lessons where the only grade is the one you give yourself in the learning.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I LOVE ❤️ this woman. She describes my own love affair with light as if it was me telling stories to my entourage…. same experience with having my child on a rug at the lake and the baby gurgling with delight at the dappled sun play above the tree shading my most precious gift! The breeze swishing softly through the leaves. Building a wonderful orchestra music, combined with the joyful cries of playing kids

    Liked by 1 person

  3. …. cont: who built their sand castles at the lake shore, got tickled by the water or went wild over an ice cream.
    From the Japanese word onwards it no longer was my story but I absolutely adore this ‘wonder woman’. Wd love to read her book. Thanks so much for sharing such extraordinary ppl with us. ♥️

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I have always been fascinated by ‘light’ as well, in the natural world, as well as within ourselves

    Liked by 1 person

  5. As Mimi said, so much to process here. I love this woman’s multiple descriptions of light…could envision each one as she limned it…and am utterly captivated by the concept of komorebi. Must rededicate myself to identifying and embracing those self-taught lessons. New day, new month, new opportunities! 💕

    Liked by 2 people

  6. This is beautiful and inspiring. She shines so bright! Today is a day for being solar powered and following Life’s kimorebi.
    Noting the beauty of things and finding the light within myself has been my journey of growth through these challenges times. “We can feel a great sadness for our broken world yet still taste the spring strawberries or enjoy the smell of rain.”

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Brilliant and fascinating and thought-provoking. Light beams outside of us and is reflected inside us. Or is it the other way? Perhaps both ways. But I know we ARE light, and I love the way you express light in your life. Your book sounds fascinating. I’m off to check it out. Interesting thing is that I had just (yesterday!) downloaded your book Women Rowing North. Quite a coincidence.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Again you have found an article that I missed! Sigh. Thank goodness for your due diligence.
    I now feel a future post will revolve around komorebi – my new favourite word.
    Thank you, David.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. ‘I have utilized every skill I know to find the light. And I have learned to look inside myself for the love I cannot find in the world. I’ve developed new rituals and routines and now feel a renewed appreciation for life as it is, not as I wish it to be.’

    A gift to remember for life. Love this woman DK👏🤗

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Food, shelter … and light. It’s right up there with the essentials for life.

    Liked by 1 person


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