This Darkness I Cherish

Burned forest

Yesterday I visited a friend whose beloved had unexpected brain surgery and spent ten days in the ICU. Another friend’s husband was hospitalized after a stroke and is recovering his balance given rehab and PT. Our choir-mate can finally show his face again in crowds after a blood cancer diagnosis and stiff round of chemo. All these near-70-somethings have new understandings of their vulnerability. Their women, like me, are grappling, trying to love and care for these men we treasure, learning our “new normals.” Rob’s (and mine) is no longer the saddest, most recent, story of loss and change. I find I can be present in a new way.

I am grateful these tears can fall. That I feel soft. And prayerful. Still sad, confused, profoundly empty at times but, like the short days and long nights, the balance of my cup of feelings seems to have shifted, almost precisely in step with the sun. Most mornings now I wake and, as consciousness dawns, I wonder and check. I feel more settled and content than not. I startle myself more often with belly-aching laughter. Also I welcome the rippling tears, no matter how painful. Do I dare say I cherish them?

At one point in early fall, a doctor asked how I was sleeping. Blessedly, sleep/dreams/resting has not been a problem for me. Others have scolded me for turning down her Xanax prescription. Still I have wondered if my characteristic lightness of being would ever return.

I am definitely a fuller and more compassionate human being due to the intensity of Rob’s diagnosis, surgery and recovery. What I contemplate now about mortality and great love, is, how-to-say-this?, more grown-up? The earlier insults—depression in college when I was scared and trying to control (and of course failing to control) a bevy of freshman beauties as their RA, desperation again when my near-perfect family fell apart after learning about my sister’s sexual abuse at the camp I loved, grief following the long demise of my dear father before he died at 94, etc.—don’t compare. After all, Rob is close, practically flesh of my flesh; we became one, in sacred vernacular.

Frankly, I am impressed with the profundity of this latest journey with Rob—what it has opened up for me/us, the pain and fortitude I have witnessed, the miracle of healing anyway, recognizing none of us ultimately gets out of this alive, the place in my heart that would expect nothing less. Even though it hurts, I don’t want to swallow or ignore it.

Over the past decade I have assembled spiral notebooks full of good writing and artwork by others. I have never chosen a particular theme until, at the risk of dualism and pitting Light against Dark, I decided to create a notebook devoted to Darkness. This fall, when my brother-in-law died and the anger-sadness-bewilderment of Grief threatened to sink me, I noticed I gravitated toward poetry about heavy-ness, as in not-lightness. It helped to collect these gifts into one notebook, giving a nod to the newer deeper understanding and feelings I respected. Now, I appreciate myself too much, on this side of the worst of it, to go back to immature unknowing.

I found the collection’s cover art too, a piece by my cousin Paula Fong. In mid-October I visited her studio and found wonderful illustrations of bees, flowers, animals, trees all in their natural habitats. Yet, I was drawn to the one of a scorched forest. It had a magnetic-like hold on me and serves as the cover of my latest notebook. Fortunately there is a stream running through this scene. And sunlight peeks from behind a cloud. I recognize the gorgeousness of this depiction and its place in my own circle of life. I have lived with this heat, flaming to the point of almost burning me and my joy up. A fire like this one creates deep fertile loam. Rich nourishing ground of this sort eventually allows transformation and resurrection. I know this. I believe this with all my heart—for all of creation, myself included.

Thus I am grateful. I know transformation is coming. The water does flow. The sun does shine. I am standing in the middle of it and am better off for all of it. I am. It helps to have my notebook nearby to remind me.

(Artwork by Paula Fong)

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