Light and Dark

July 3rd, 2014

Clear images and understanding are impossible in the dark, and too much light is just as blinding. While TV news and the 24/7/ad nauseam news cycle would have us see the world through a screen darkly, those who would have us see the bright light of their view would gleefully burn the unenlightened.

How we see the whole of our lives is wholly up to us.

As published in The Daily News, July 4, 2014, and in The Memphis News, July 5-11, 2014

(photo: Gaines Conaway and Ursula, Chateau de Pray, 1987)

Gaines  Ursula Copy


As I watch what leads the local TV news – basically a visual evening recap of whatever that day’s monitoring of police scanners and chasing sirens can produce – and what passes for TV reporting ­– basically an evening twist to whatever might be salacious or sensational in that morning’s paper – I wonder if all of our better angels have left town.

The 30-minute horror show we’re being shown daily is no more indicative of the whole of who and what we are than a 30-minute Chamber of Commerce PowerPoint presentation, no more reflective of what you’re dealing with in your kitchen than what Kelly English is dealing with in his. We are all of us somewhere in-between.

It’s just intellectually lazy. Truth and balance are tough. Fear and pandering are easy. 

In 1987, 14 years before 9/11, my family was returning from a trip to France from Paris Orly airport. We pulled our 15 pieces of luggage through doors guarded by two guys with Uzi’s, the submachine gun of choice those days, and proceeded to a huge waiting room accommodating ten or more lesser known airlines, hundreds of people, and several more guys with Uzi’s.

It was going to be a while so my wife, mother-in-law, 12-year-old daughter and five-year-old son decamped in search of food and I kept watch atop mount luggage. While they were gone, a patrol spotted and approached an unaccompanied carry-on bag in the vast room. Whistles blew. Officials scurried. Announcements were made in several languages. We were all to depart the building immediately with our luggage.

Over the years telling this story, I’m often asked, “How did you move 15 pieces of luggage?”

When a guy with an Uzi says move the luggage, you find a way.

With all of us outside on the tarmac, they put a huge can over that little bag and blew it up.

I then dragged, kicked and muscled our bags back into a surreal smoky room, smelling like Baileys Irish Cream and cordite, filled with tiny pieces of floating fabric and paper. That had been the contents of the ill-fated bag – a bottle bought custom-free, somebody’s underwear and somebody’s trip photos.

Presently, my family returned after a heart-stopping adventure of their own recapturing the five-year-old who had escaped to explore the vast Orly terminal solo. A man with a chest-long beard in some sort of military outfit turned a cardboard sign around that read “Air Malta” revealing our charter “Tower Air” on the other side, and we were off.

More than just remember, I could mark and measure our trip by that experience. Or by Paris, the Loire Valley, or by seeing my mother-in-law see Europe. Or by my daughter’s wide eyes or by an old dog named Ursula rolling around on a 13-century chateau floor with my son.

I remember, mark and measure by it all. If we live in fear embracing only the dark, light is lost and terror wins.

I’m a Memphian, and part of the whole story.


I'm a Memphian by Dan Conaway

The book is available all over town – columns, comments and character references for a city filled with it and often absolutely full of it. Take a look.



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