I’ve been angry since my sister died last September. And sad, of course. Confused. Broken open in new places (as if I needed more breaking…see, there’s that anger).
Right after she died, there were signs everywhere. I felt her presence. I could hear her voice say, “Karen…”. To me, it was the way you call someone’s name when you want to gently but urgently wake them up.
A couple of months after she died, the signs began to come less frequently. Her constant presence was fading. I started reading a book, Barbara Brown Taylor’s Learning to Walk in the Dark. As soon as I started to read the words, I realized that I had been seeking the dark for months, even before my sister died, maybe even as far back as when my grandpa died.
A wise person once said that when the head believes one thing and the heart believes another, the heart always wins.
My heart was leading me out of the bright sunlight, away from the protective arms of positive affirmations, uplifting memes, tenets, rules, steps and well lit paths. A brightly lit world, for all its beauty, is susceptible to fear. It can get to the point where any dark cloud can seem ominous.
“When we run from darkness, how much do we really know about what we are running from? If we turn away from darkness on principal, doing everything we can to avoid it because there is simply no telling what it contains, isn’t there a chance that what we are running from is God?” – Barbara Brown Taylor, Learning to Walk in the Dark
Last summer, I was afraid of all the things I was supposed to be afraid of: standing outside in lightning storms, strangers, carcinogens, alcohol, you name it. But I had grown weary of my self-constructed rules and limitations that had always kept me safe. This went way beyond whether or not I should drink again. It was an entire belief system that I’d constructed to keep me from having to be afraid. I feared the fear.
I decided to do something radical, something that my head told me was potentially dangerous. I prayed for guidance and despite my desire for God to write the answer in big letters in the sky, all I heard was my heart saying, “Trust yourself.”
Trusting yourself might very well mean not standing in a lightning storm, avoiding pesticides, staying away from that creepy dude in the parking lot and protecting your sobriety. It means something different to each of us and my problem was that I had never truly questioned what it meant to me. I tried everyone else’s methods, time-tested formulas and followed the well marked guideposts. If someone said it worked for them, then it was worth a try for me.
I have spent the last few years being open to new ideas and saying yes when I would normally say no. I allowed my mind to be broken open, letting in love and light and beauty. I needed God’s presence to feel safe so that I could go into the dark places that would heal me. I bravely ran in, grabbed what I needed, then ran out again as fast as I could. Whew. Safe again in the light.
This last year, and especially the last couple of months have been different. I don’t feel God’s presence so strongly now. There aren’t as many signs and cool coincidences. I feel like my 6 year old when he resists holding my hand when we cross the street. I know God is right there next to me but I don’t want to be crowded.
I’ve let my eyes grow accustomed to the dark for longer periods of time. I’m living among the mushrooms, the earthworms, the moles. I’m not clawing my way to the surface quite yet. This isn’t depression and I’m not afraid of never coming up again. It’s more like I’m experiencing fear as if I’m its friend and it’s allowing me within its heart. I’m letting it speak without judgment. It courses through my body and while I feel the fear, I don’t fear the fear. It wants to be released from me and I want to be free.
I’m learning what it’s like to seamlessly travel between darkness and light, both places integrated within my heart. I’m not in a hurry to escape the bright sun or the dark night. I trust that we were always meant to be companions.