Thursday, December 2, 2010

Reflections on the dark nights

Sometimes it really does become clear that the world is moving so quickly that people are losing their 'touch' with the reality that is the whole self, in a human community, and a kind of engagement with the broader issues facing all of us.
There was a time when the celebrated adage used to be, "I am a human BEING not a human DOING."
And that meant that celebration of time in reflection of an inner variety trumped time reflecting on extrinsic reality. How one felt, believed, ruminated, and even dreamed seemed to matter, not to the occasional one but to more than the occasional one. Attempting to connect the dots, in one's own life, meant noting how those dots connected with the dots in others' lives. And pursuing those dots meant discerning a kind of personal time line, and summation of the kind of experience that one had had, with a view to making some sense of that experience.
And that pursuit meant asking tough questions about how one might have faced different situations differently with the benefit of new growth and the detachment that comes from decades apart from the original experience. And while noting the differences, one had the benefit of two different dramas, two different narratives, one then, and one now.
While within a troublesome patch, we all, each one of us, reverted to a kind of survival mode. We tried to eat enough to stay alive, when there might not have been money or prospects to sustain a more wholesome existence. When there was only oatmeal and chicken noodle soup in the larder, and the cockroaches were running out from the kitchen cupboards faster than we could kill them, and the phone was silent and the mornings turned into afternoons and evenings, and the only thought that seemed to be able to surface in our minds ran something like, "Where will I park the car and what will I write if I attempt to end this life today?"
And when thoughts like those clustered in both our bodies and our minds and we merely wakened long enough to have a cup of tea, and then return to a horizontal place, where we could try to read, only to find those words blurring into our hourly question and the process stretched over four months....and every time a muscle moved in the direction of "doing" something about that damn question, only the bedcovers could wrap themselves around the shoulders and then some fitful sleep would take over...until the next round of facing the same question.....
And then, after those horrible dark months, the question seemed to move slightly in the direction of 'Do I choose, instead, to live?' and 'Do I want life itself, for itself, on its own merits?' and those questions seemed to provoke the occasional walk around a single block, without a single encounter with another human being.
The significance of the change in the nature of the question seemed to be that a choice to live, even when there seemed to be no external purpose, or external stimulation, or external motivation to do something, to accomplish something in some organizational, or corporate or educational or political situation or manner, had its own intrinsic value and justified one's being alive over doing some measureable or even commendable action.
And there was a glimmer of light on the horizon of one's attitude; the gloom was giving way to something a little lighter and a little less ominous, a little less foreboding.
And if such a time is like those times that some writers have called 'the dark night of the soul' in their spiritual stories, and if such a time is given to one so that one can know, without doubt, that even at the bottom of the 'pit' of one's hopelessness and one's meaninglessness, there is still something that nudges even the most despondent out of the abyss, then one has to emerge into a world different from that one entered four or five months previous. If that former world was detailed in appointments, assignments, accomplishments and phone calls and extrinsic performance of one's responsibilties, this new world is detailed very differently by a different sense of breathing, and looking at the sky and the clouds and the sunlight, and listening to the birds and even feeding the birds. And there are fewer appointments and fewer accomplishments that formerly were needed to justify one's acceptance of one's duty, and they are regarded as things on the 'to do' list without the kind of military command that seemed attached to those same things formerly.
What did God have to do with any of this, except perhaps to serve the questions and the attitudes and the old and new perceptions and attitudes and sense of being? And what is the purpose of such pain, if not to waken the spirit to the depth of its profundity, and that profundity is and can never be anything we have created, generated or contributed; that profundity is merely a quality of our gift of life, from whereever that gift comes from and returns to.
And while one never wishes such darkness on another as certainly no one ever wished it to be a part of this life journey, it is that long dark night that stays with us when all the questions of one's search for purpose and identity and justification in an extrinsic sense fall away into an oblivion too deep to penetrate or to recall, leaving only the desire for clean air, clean water, adequate sustenance and a partner to share those simple order to speak for those who cannot speak on their own behalf, for those same gifts.
And that darkness can only be a prelude to another dawn, and perhaps a different kind of that of drawing down from the hurly-burly that is life at the peak. And that drawing down can be another of those times to reflect on the "what-might-have-been's" if we had made different choices and to befriend both the choices made and the 'road not taken'...and to accept both as gifts to be thankful for.

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