I remember someone once said to me, “I don’t know how you do it. How can you stay so calm and have so much patience?”
I smiled and changed the subject. Darkness is a funny thing. Once you’ve been exposed to it for a prolonged period of time, you simply adjust. You adjust to the silence, the unpredictable screams, and the tempest that comes on in an instant and blows off when least expected. When you grow up in darkness, it is your familiar. You know how to find comfort amidst its shards and volatility. The heaviness of its air becomes your blanket, your comfort if you will.
It’s all well and good until that one unforgettable day when you get a glimpse of the light. Normal shows up on your doorstep and knocks, begging to come in. At first you breathe in deep. It is a whiff of fresh air, exhilarating and motivating. Then after a bit of time it becomes your unknown and you find yourself waiting for your normal to return, for the darkness to fall again and fill your life with all that is familiar.
These past few weeks have been surprisingly challenging for me. There has been a raw gnawing at my bones, begging me to sink between the sheets and hibernate for a while. I feel as though there have been weights attached to my limbs, making my daily schedule challenging and body set at a constant state of ready and alert. My mind spins in circles, searching for a reason why. Life is calm, settled, and filled with predictable love. Why then would my body be reacting in such a tumultuous way?
I bumped into a friend this evening at the local market. We share one of life’s horrors in common. I blurted out that I’ve been off and she began listing off community, national triggers. I’ve never taken the time to go beyond myself. My ego can be strong when my spirit is week. I felt relieved in a way. We’re just past 9/11, our community is marking the one year anniversary of some major losses, and our country feels incredibly divided. How could I feel certain, secure in my stable home, when there is so much a foot kicking me into familiar territory of division, hate, grief, and uncertainty?
Then Kevin sent me a meme after I messaged him saying, “having a counterpart who has survived the same life trauma’s is reassuring in a strange sorta way.” When I read the quote, I let it sink in and then smiled silently to myself. Having to put on a face, to be stronger than you feel, is exhausting. Having to fake it till you make it, leaves you wondering if you are a poser and often all the second guessing ends up with your insides tied up in knots. Trying to explain your reactions to certain life situations feels very much like you’re embracing the role of victim, even to the person you love more than the entire world itself.
When you have the opportunity to connect with others who have traveled similar paths as yours, experienced the darkness in the way in which you have, there is a moment that makes space. It’s in this moment you find solace and knowledge that regardless of how many times you thought you were going crazy, you really are just finding your way into the light out of the darkness. Connections in life are invaluable and build bridges out of despair into joy. Look for these connections and embrace building the bridges.
“Only when we know our own darkness well, can we be present with the darkness of others.” This is a portion of the quote that I sent to Jen last week. I sent it in response to her asking if perhaps we should be developing a goal for our blogging adventure, and if so, what would that be? Ironically, it is the very same question that I had put to me recently about another writing project of mine. You see, good writing should have a point. A writer should be able to easily articulate why someone would want to read your work. Since Jen and I sort of stumbled on to whatever it is we are doing here, we didn’t really spend anytime thinking about why we were writing. But through our process, our writing seems to have revealed the “why” for us.
We are human beings. And as divided as our country is, as many screwed up things that fill our daily news feeds, the human condition is universal. We all experience darkness in our lives. We have all been touched by sadness and pain. We have all struggled. And, we all asked ourselves, why?
So, I sent Jen that quote because I think our goal in blogging is to share our individual experiences with the human condition. To write with an implicit wish that others may find solace, comfort, and hope when they may find themselves in one of those dark places; to know that they are not alone. There are many others who have been there before and have found their way out. In fact, there are many who will go into the darkness with you; they will sit with you, hold your hand, and stay in the dark for as long as it takes for you to make peace with it.
Light and dark are just two sides of the same coin. You can’t have one without the other. Every ancient civilization not only understood this, but celebrated it. It is only in our modern, western society that we somehow think that we should be exempt from the dark and live only in the light. The result is over diagnosing, over prescribing, addictions, and disorders. The fact that others have been there is little comfort though when the darkness falls and it completely and totally engulfs you. Darkness is disorienting, isolating, and often, panic inducing.
I learned how to surf almost 10 years ago. It was one of those “bucket list” things for me and I was fortunate to have made friends with some guys I was teaching with who were avid groms. I honed my skills from May to August on the “ferocious” surf of coastal New England. Feeling like I was now an accomplished and seasoned surfer, I ventured out into the break with them during a tropical storm that had pushed up the coast in early September. Having successfully paddled out through the break, I was soon staring down the face of the largest wave I had ever seen this up close and personal. Needless to say, I did not survive the drop with my feet still on my board. I wiped out hard and I was in the “wash” cycle of the wave. At first, I felt panic. “I am going to drown,” my thoughts screamed! I wasn’t even sure which way was up. I just kept getting spun around and around, tossed, tumbled, completely disoriented, and running out of air. Not dissimilar to the darkness.
But then, somehow, I gained control of my thoughts just as they were running away from me. The prevailing cognition being, “slow down.” I told myself, “you’re ok.” As my mind began to quiet, even more encouraging words began to form: “You’re a strong swimmer, you’re smart, relax and think.” Panic makes it very hard, if not impossible, for us to think rationally and problem solve our way through the difficulty: the darkness. In relaxing my mind, my body had no choice but to follow suit. A relaxed body slows the heart rate which in turn utilizes less oxygen. In all of this calmness I had cultivated, it occurred to me that I still had a massive stick leashed to my left ankle. And then…I felt it. My surfboard had floated toward the surface and was tugging on my leg, showing me which way was up.
So you see, if we can learn to cultivate our minds to remain calm in the midst of a storm, or when our darkness descends, we can find our way out. We can find our way back to the light either through serendipity, the help of others, or on our own accord.