The novel, Cold Morning Shadow, opens as Cyleine is contemplating fragments of ancient wisdom. The first, which the reader assumes is a line of ancient origin —
a shadow is a moving signature
— is in fact Cyleine’s own observation, which she may not realize is original to herself until she sorts her thoughts later. On her way out of the room she takes her moving signature with her.
Recalling her childhood friend who has recently died of a chronic illness, she then reflects on a longer passage —
Some have left behind them a name, so that others declare their praise. But of the rest there is no memory; they have perished as though they had never existed.
This comes from Chapter 44 of Ecclesiasticus, a book in the Apocrypha of the protestant churches, including the Anglican and Episcopal churches, and among the deuterocanonical books of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches. It is a book also called Wisdom of Jesus son of Sirach (sometimes shortened to Sirach), or the Wisdom of Ben Sira. (Although the Apocrypha is not canonical in the Episcopal and Anglican churches, it is used as supplemental guiding scripture.)
It is logical that Cyleine might have heard or read this passage in church, for we later find out that she has a wavering relationship with the local Roman Catholic parish and that her mother attends mass regularly. Later that afternoon, another line floats past her:
But we shall be hereafter as though we had never been, and our names shall be forgotten in time, for our time is a very shadow that passes away.
This is found in Chapter 2 of the Book of Wisdom, another deuterocanonical text that Cyleine would have heard during the readings in church.
It is pertinent, here, to point out that Cold Morning Shadow does not explore Cyleine’s faith in God nor that of her friends. Her church is evidently her source for these passages, and they affect her apart from any consideration of her faith.
Then she hears in her head,
A shadow has no substance.
We don’t have a reference for these exact words anywhere in ancient scripture. It is a common enough observation throughout literature. In MacBeth, Shakespeare makes the case that “Life’s but a walking shadow… signifying nothing.” Psalm 23 famously dismisses the shadow of death, and in Psalm 102:11 we read, “My days are like a shadow that declines.” Apart from the Psalms, David also laments that “Our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no abiding.” (1 Chronicles 29:15)
Perhaps the phrase that came to Cyleine’s mind that afternoon, that a shadow has no substance, was heard once in a sermon regarding any of these passages or in a lecture. The concept captured in the phrase is rooted deep in times past. But she’s not, at the moment, trying to seize upon a source for the idea. She is merely trying to retain the words before the idea escapes her.
Shadows As A Common Theme
Ordinary shadows come and go throughout the book, even, of course, the cold morning shadow on the west side of a building. It’s a recurring theme: eye shadow, an evening shadow, the shadow of a pebble at sunset, so elongated that it could hide a snake — these all occur.
The story pauses to consider that an umbra is a kind of shadow. There are shadows of people walking in the moonlight. These and other shadows occur as regularly as in an ordinary day.
More Shadows as Metaphors
After the first day of school, when the opening lines about shadows teased at her, the thought isn’t mentioned again until weeks later, when her friend, Wilton, stuns her with this passage:
All those things are passed away like a shadow, and as a post that hasted by; and as a ship that passeth over the waves of the water, which when it is gone by, the trace thereof cannot be found, neither the pathway of the keel in the waves; or as when a bird hath flown through the air, there is no token of her way to be found, but the light air being beaten with the stroke of her wings and parted with the violent noise and motion of them, is passed through, and therein afterwards no sign where she went is to be found.
What stuns Cyleine is that Wilton is acquainted with it at all. It is found in Wisdom, Chapter 5. It’s a turning point for her in their fledgling relationship. (Twice, though, she and Wilton later misidentify it with Sirach; no matter; it’s an easy mistake of the sort we all make, especially when we are young. The long passage, as noted, is from the Wisdom of Solomon, not Sirach, never mind that scholars generally agree that Solomon is also not the actual author of the book. But wisdom is wisdom no matter who gets the credit, if anyone.)
Some time later, as a car filled with hooligans rushes out of sight with the police in pursuit, Wilton clumsily quotes, as he strains to hear the fading scream of sirens:
…vanished like a shadow, and like a rumor, …and when it has passed, no trace can be found.
No one else in the crowd notices his remark except Cyleine.
Some months later, in her vixen’s den — the version of her den that Wilton has inadvertently created to her specifications, Cyleine is soothed by the shadow on the side of his face opposite the side dimly illuminated by their only light source.
Another Way to Think of Shadows
Garnette, in a conversation with Cyleine one evening while they should be studying, observes that their side-by-side shadows on the ground, blended into one as they walk close together, make her think of their blended spirits. Cyleine then scrambles to find a poem, which the novel attributes to an Oglala chief of the 1800s, Kokipapi:
Our lives are as but a day.
Our shadows are as spirits,
Yours touching mine on the earth
Even when we stand apart.
At end of day our shadows become one with night.
We are still here, only the light is gone.
At end of life our spirits become one with all
We are not gone, only no longer seen.
Garnette then muses about the ephemeral nature of one’s name — about fading away in the world’s collective memory. Her speculation strikes Cyleine as a radical thought but brings her initial anxiety on the subject full circle: Maybe it’s not so terrible that we are forgotten.
Toward the end, finally, Wilton asks Cyleine whether “Cold” modifies “Morning” or modifies “Shadow” in the name, Cold Morning Shadow. Together, they settle it for themselves.