My sister had an old dead tree tattooed on her arm. She always meant to have dark clouds filled in behind it, but she didn’t get the chance. I asked her why a dead tree and not a living one; she said it was because she had seen the dark and the dead and gotten through it. And now, her death has become the shape of the dark for me.
It isn’t that I am a stranger to darkness. But each difficult circumstance and undesirable situation in my life invites me to get acquainted with a new corner of darkness, each with a different shape, a new texture, a strange depth. It is the wandering around in the dark I do not like. I resist the pain of loss, the fear of never seeing light again, the weight of carrying the darkness with me. And I am tracing out the shape of the darkness while I read bedtime stories and help with math homework. Wandering in the dark is exhausting.
So much pain comes from my resistance to the dark. I want a world where all the days are warm and sunny, where our family life is mostly peaceful and awesome, where children die after their parents, and death comes peacefully in sleep after a life lived well and long. Wind and rain, tired kids and imperfect parents, early and violent death – all of it gets in the way of my perfect plans.
I want to run away from my life in an impossible attempt to outrun the dark. As if it would be possible to escape suffering by escaping joy. In my unimaginable reality, the tears fall at the same time that my littlest giggles uncontrollably at my fake sleeping on her pillow. Hearings happen while the clouds dance across the sky and birds are singing. She isn’t here and I can see her in the faces of her children.
Lying at the bottom of this unfamiliar pit of grief, I feel unanchored. The other half of my twin soul is missing, not gone but far away. Where there was always someone holding my hand, there is an empty space. When I push, she does not push back. The floor is rough and the air is dense. There are other people in the pit with me, tracing their own grief, and still others standing around the pit. The dark feels lonely, and I am not alone.
The dark is eerily quiet and deafening at the same time. It is unsettling and unpredictable. Mostly it is heavy, and I do not want to set it down any more than I want to carry it forever. My feet are itchy, and the dark is coming out of me as much as it surrounds.
I do not get to choose the dark, neither its arrival nor its shape. I wish I knew a God that prevented darkness, instead of One that enters into it. And I am shocked by the ways that God has been preparing me for tracing darkness: in asking for help, in letting myself be carried, in silence, and in waiting for resurrection. I am having difficulty feeling God at all these days, and looking back over my life I can see the Spirit tracing a way through the history of my darkness. Perhaps God is in my present in a way I will only see in the future?
At Abbie’s funeral, I sang Psalm 16: “You have shown me the path of life, and lead me to joy forever.” It was a prayer for the future, rather than one felt fully in the present. I was so angry with God, so stunned by Divine silence, that I had difficulty saying the words to God. But I found cracks of light in praying them with her as a start. She has shown me and continues to remind me that the path of life goes through darkness and through death.
Abbie had death tattooed on her arm and her laughter and joy in living was a constant rebellion against its power. Her life and her death contained more difficulty than we imagined. Still she walked, tracing her way through the darkness, into a beautiful life. Her shape remains in the dark. Help me to trace you in the dark, that I might find you living with me still.