“You need to spend time crawling alone through shadows to truly appreciate what it is to stand in the sun.”
― Shaun Hick
I thought about this quote a lot on a recent walk. Teddy was prancing through the State Park, sniffing flowers and examining various sticks as I allowed my mind to wander, breathing in the fresh air and observing the sun break through the trees, casting an intricate pattern of light on our path. With every step and rustling of the leaves, the pattern would change from light to dark and dark to light, reminding me of the impressionist paintings we studied in Mademoiselle’s French class my junior year of high school.
As I admired this beguiling dance of shadows and light, the ground still frozen from the latest snow storm, I couldn’t help but think of its significance within the larger context of life: the continuous interplay of good and evil that accompanies us throughout our journey. The delicate balance between two opposing forces – the yin and the yang that govern our natural world. And yet, light cannot exist without darkness, and darkness cannot exist without light. They are complementary, interconnected, and interdependent as one gives rise to another.
I observed the shadows forming and disappearing on my path and thought about my own moments of darkness that so pointedly marked the last year of my life. Being laid off – as devastating as it was to my self-esteem and my sense of self-worth – did not come close to the agonizing pain I felt from losing Louis, my devilishly handsome little fur baby, who had been the center of my universe for the past year and a half. At the time, I blamed myself for not having known better, been there, done more to prevent his death and cried uncontrollably for days, wallowing in grief. Not even the fact that I would soon have my own child could give me solace.
A week later, I miscarried.
To this day, I don’t know how I pulled myself out of this emotional abyss … For months, images of Louis flashed in my head. Those beautiful brown eyes still wide open as Derek and I held him up by his back legs, like a piece of meat at a butcher shop, frantically performing chest compressions at an attempt to revive his limp and lifeless body; tears streaming down my face as I placed flowers on his grave the following day; memories of the emergency room as I screamed in pain, shaking, vomiting during my chemically induced labor, my body convulsing as it discarded the last remains of my motherhood.
Why did the universe hate me? Why did God punish me? I mean, first you take my job, my income, my stability, then my dog and my baby … Why inflict all of this pain on me? What big life lesson exactly was I supposed to learn from all of this?
I spent months processing the various stages of grief: shock, denial, and anger were the easy ones. Bargaining, too. But depression, ooooh depression – that was the mother of all beasts. Every morning, I would wake up early, wrap myself in blankets, light a few candles and sit on the patio overlooking the yard, searching for a sign – any sign – that God hadn’t abandoned me. Truth is, as much as I grieved Louis, his loss wasn’t the only one I was mourning. It was the loss of a job, the loss of identity, the loss of self-worth, the loss of purpose …
At first, I would just cry. Then, I would just sit there, empty and numb, staring into nothingness. But, slowly, ever so slowly, I started to notice the birds chirping in the woods, two red cardinals flying in and out of the trees, leaves swirling in the wind, chipmunks chasing each other through the yard … and bit by bit, I began to find peace.
I am not sure whether it was the numerous SuperSoul podcasts, the countless self-help books, the weekly yoga classes, the love and support of Derek, my family and friends, or Divine intervention that allowed me to get through this dark period in my life. Perhaps it was a combination of all of the above. But I recognized there was a light inside of me that could not be extinguished. It may have been faint at first, but it grew stronger and stronger each day.
“A single candle can defy and define the darkness.”
― Anne Frank
While the light and the dark can be equally powerful, it is darkness that teaches us the greatest lesson. Darkness exposes the light within us and allows our spirit to shine. Or, as Anne Frank observed, “a single candle can defy and define the darkness.” The tug of war between light and darkness will always be a part of our world. What matters is how we approach it. Will we choose to see the broken window or will we, instead, focus on the ray of light shining through the cracks? The window may still be broken, but it is the light that inspires us to connect with our higher being and identify a path forward in the wake of life’s tragedies.
Our beliefs are a powerful tool that shape how we see the world. I, for one, am grateful to have weathered the storm and chosen a path of optimism and hope. At times when it would have been easier to wallow in sorrow and choose the path of least resistance, I chose to struggle. I kicked my fighter instinct into high gear and worked through the pain. I created light by bringing consciousness to the dark.
Now, when I think of Louis, I no longer replay the horrifying images that have kept me up at night. Instead, I choose to remember some of our happiest moments: running around the baseball field, me chasing after him as he chased after squirrels. On mornings, when the wind is particularly strong, I sense his beautiful, wild spirit, reminding me that, while he is no longer part of this physical world, he is still there with me. When I see the cardinals flying through the trees, I quietly say a prayer to my grandparents, Grandma and Boo. And when the sun rises to light up the morning sky, I remember my Omi and her beautiful smile.
Seeing light in a world that can seem so consumed with darkness can be challenging. But it gets easier the more we try. When we practice compassion, patience, love and kindness – with ourselves and with others; when we embrace moments of silence instead of filling them with words, when we spend time in nature and just listen … Those are the moments we connect with our higher selves. Those are the moments we reconnect with our inner light. And those are the moments we learn to appreciate the beautiful, tumultuous, heartbreaking, and awe-inspiring miracle that is life.