Monday, June 30, 2014

Walking Through the Dark

Today, I’m considering the whole process of stepping out on faith and walking through the darkness when you can’t see your way before you. I've been here many times.

I’m facing some medical challenges right now. Not unusual for a woman in the last half of her life, of course. At the same time my son is facing difficulties in finding permanent employment. The university he teaches at as an adjunct has a permanent position open and desperately wants to hire him for it. He wants it even more desperately. He loves teaching there and feels he’s making a difference for his students. However, this university is federally controlled, and there’s been a glitch at the federal bureaucracy end. The school administrators are trying to straighten it out, and I tell my son that they will. But it sometimes looks hopeless and bleak to him.

It seems that there are so many times like this in life. You go along aiming at your goals and planning your next moves for quite some time, just humming along like a top. Then, something happens -- maybe illness, loss of a job or an important relationship, financial problems, or natural disaster, whatever. Suddenly, night has fallen. Your old goals, plans, directions may or may not still be valid. You don’t really know, because you can’t really see what the next day will bring. Heck, you can’t see where the next step is or where it will take you.

It’s all too easy, under these circumstances, to just stand paralyzed. And sometimes, that’s what we have to do at the beginning. Usually, these kinds of situations are a sign that we need to go within ourselves somehow. However, we may need to take some kind of immediate action to stave off further disaster even as we try to look within ourselves for some future guidance. Not always the easiest thing to do.

When this kind of night plunges your life into darkness, the first thing to do is to stand still and take inventory of your situation. Are there immediate emergency steps that need to be taken? Has the situation fallen all the way to the bottom yet, and if not, are there things you can do right now that might stop or cushion the drop? For example, if you’ve been laid off, what transition options can you get from your company or local agencies? If you’re in sudden financial difficulties, can you work through a consumer credit counseling agency or on your own to contact creditors and arrange temporarily lowered payments? If your home was flooded or burned, check to see if you will be able to salvage anything of the structure or the contents. Often, these immediate, emergency steps consume us, and we obsess over them. Why not? They keep us focused on doing something and away from looking at that impenetrable dark horizon that our future has become.

Once immediate emergencies have been dealt with, it is important to make some time to mourn the old path from which life has so suddenly knocked us. The path ahead is usually shrouded in night at this point, and the first step toward finding our way is to establish where we came from, what it meant to us, all the good it brought us. It is only natural to mourn such things. As a part of this process, however, we must move on to realistically seek out all the harm our vanished situation caused us, all the opportunities lost, the ways in which it limited us. This gives a more realistic context for our mourning process and begins to close it out.

From this point of realism, we can know truly where we are standing and become aware of the possibility that, although we may never find that exact situation again, we might find something new that provides what the old withheld from us.

One thing I've learned through the years is that even what seems to be an unmitigated disaster usually turns into something good--ultimately. It takes faith in the process, faith in the universe or God or whatever term you use. It's where our whole country sits right now. In the long run, it will lead to something even better than the shortsighted greed in which we've been living. Change is the only constant in life--and as it never stays sunny and bright forever, so too does it never stay dark forever. Soon enough, light once again dawns. We all just have to put one foot in front of the other, tentatively and experimentally, testing the ground we cannot see, but that's the way we'll make it to a brighter future, one step at a time through the dark.

I wrote a poem about this once.


We’ve put it off
as long as we can,
trying to memorize this ourselves
before we pass it on—
oral teaching, blurred boundaries
drawn in the dirt with sticks—
to the young woman who looks like me
and the boy already taller than you.
For weeks, they’ve sensed a changing
in the outlines of their world
and closed ears and eyes
to continue with hands clutching our clothes
as when they were toddlers,
early in the journey
when we still knew the land.

You and I have had no time
to map this unexpected territory
that stretches before us
in brand-new blackness.
We all have to find our own
path through this. They can’t
just follow us anymore.
We’re stumbling in opposite directions.
Published in Heart’s Migration (Tia Chucha Press, 2009)

For now, all I can do is hold out my hand to my son and start walking. I know we’ll make it. One step at a time.


Jim Jackson said...

One of the few things I have truly learned is that trying to handle tough times alone does not work. I am often reminded to sing these words taken from the American Miners Association:

“Step by step, the longest march
Can be won, can be won;
Single stones will form an arch
One by one, one by one;
And, by Union what we will
Can be accomplished still;
Drops of water turn a mill
Singly none, singly none.”

~ Jim

E. B. Davis said...

I think of "Faith" a poem by George Santayana. "Oh world, thou chooses not the better part!..."

Walking through the dark requires faith. I remember a time when I felt as if I couldn't breathe because I didn't have control. I wanted to protect my kids, my husband, myself from all of the bad things that could happen.

My son drove twelve hours yesterday to get back to Atlanta. I think of all the things that could have happened--but didn't happen. It's scary.

Sometimes I feel when I am discouraged or depressed that I am unfaithful. Shouldn't we have optimism if we truly believe? Then I think--perhaps I'm a sap! Bad things do happen and to good people.

Pragmatist that I am, we have nothing to lose by having faith. Somehow it all works out, Linda.

KM Rockwood said...

You and your family are in our thoughts and prayers as you navigate this difficult time.

Sometimes the despair is justified; sometimes things aren't nearly as bad as they seem.

Life does have a way of throwing unexpected barriers in our paths, and all we can do is try to sort them out and come through the crisis.

I hope everything works out for you and your son.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Jim, yes, other people can be key to getting through some of the dark times. Although folks can do it alone--if they have to. Too often, though, we think we have to when we really don't.

Linda Rodriguez said...

EB, I don't think you're unfaithful. It's part of the way the human brain is wired to be able to look at something like your son's 12-hour drive and see all the things that could go wrong. That's a survival mechanism we've developed through the centuries.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Thanks, KM. Actually a new opportunity just opened up for my son over the weekend at another university, so between one and the other, I hope he'll be settled in permanent employment with benefits soon.

Warren Bull said...

Sometimes when your emerge on the other side of the darkness you have to revise your image of yourself and adjust your goals. After each of my bone marrow transplants due to multiple myeoloma I had a lengthy physical recovery and I had to re-set my concept of "normal" based on the new reality. Family, friends, faith and writing were part of the recovery process.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Yes, Warren. When I had to leave my career in higher ed because of lupus and fibromyalgia, I had to learn to reset normal also. The woman everyone considered a whirlwind of energy and work became a woman who had to count out and measure the energy she could expend on things. But we do learn to do that.

Gloria Alden said...

Linda, I've certainly gone through those dark times; the death of my oldest son to cancer, the death of my first grandchild when she was only six, and the breakup of a long time marriage that caused the loss of my home. Although I had friends and family supporting me, it was up to me to go on with life and sometimes take a new path. I might never have become a teacher if it weren't for trying to find some meaning in life after ny son died. I wouldn't have this old home I love and an active life if I were still married. :-) Having children is a blessing, but also a burden because we worry about them and their hardships become ours.

You are in my thoughts and prayers. I feel confident you will get through this dark period.

Shari Randall said...

I think often of the wisdom in children's books. There's a favorite called Going on a Bear Hunt. The children are looking for a bear and on the way they encounter difficulties and roadblocks - a swamp, a snowstorm, a deep dark forest. The refrain goes "can't go over it, can't go under it, we've got to go through it." Such a simple and honest metaphor for life - some things you have to go through. And you come out on the other side.
I know you have had to "reset your normal", Linda, and you do it with grace.

lil Gluckstern said...

You are remarkable in noting the difficulties of life. Due to illness, I recently had to give up my practice as a psychotherapist. I had been working with people for forty years, and not only did I miss the work, I missed my clients. However, I was chastised by my so-called friends for being sad and depressed. I still put one foot in front of the other. And I focus on new things. and I read your work. I hope your life lightens up for you, and your son.

Sarah Henning said...

I'm thinking of you and yours, Linda! I've been trying to think of something profound to say, but I think after reading your terrific, thoughtful blog and all of these terrific, thoughtful responses, it's hard to say anything other than to just nod and say I'm happy to be here for you in this patch of darkness!

Linda Rodriguez said...

Gloria, I think you've gone through much darker times than I have. The death of a child or grandchild is the worst sort of wound. You're obviously an incredibly strong lady.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Shari, I love that book and that phrase. Teaching that kind of endurance and resilience is one of the things that the best children's/YA literature does--and something that too little of adult literature does.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Lil, I'm so sorry your friends chastised you for the very normal feelings of loss and grief you were feeling. It took me two years to really get over losing the person I had been and the career I had loved, and I think that's fairly usual in those kinds of circumstances. Fortunately, you are a strong, flexible person and have weathered that transition, but the chiding didn't help any with that.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Sarah, I appreciate that. I'm not a good person with illness or trouble in terms of accepting help. I tend to be like an animal--I just want to hole up in my den until I heal whatever is affecting me. I know that's something I need to change. Perhaps this circumstance has been sent to provide the impetus for that needed change.

Kara Cerise said...

Thank you for sharing your heartfelt message and beautiful poem, Linda. I've walked in the darkness a few times in my life and agree that taking a deep breath and assessing the situation is key. I'm thinking of you and your son.

carla said...

Linda, hoping things settle down soon. The dark can shape us, but doesn't have to define us. You're a real survivor.

Anonymous said...

This is a brave post, and encouraging . . . we face the dark times and do come through them, somehow, and then find wonders we couldn't have even imagined and strength we didn't know we had. Hugs!

Linda Rodriguez said...

Kara, yes, that initial deep breath and taking stock stage is vital.

Linda Rodriguez said...

I love that line, Carla. "The dark can shape us, but doesn't have to define us." I think that's so true!

Linda Rodriguez said...

Mary, you're so right about finding "wonders we couldn't have even imagined and strength we didn't know we had." It's exactly like when we put our characters to the test.