This quote from Joseph Campbell is heartening when I am in a place of deep struggle. But doesn’t the “dark night of the soul” sometimes seem unfathomably long?
When my dark nights descend upon me negativity feeds on me like a hungry mushroom, my world morphs into a small, dreary place, the sun never shines, and it’s perpetually 10 minutes before midnight. These are dangerous times. All I wish for is numbness, and numbness, for me, spells doom.
One such experience commenced in 2007, when I learned my brother Steve was suffering from a terminal cancer.
It’s hard to describe the shock of the news. Steve was in the prime of life, fit as a fiddle and thriving in every way. How could this be? Why him? Why now? Soon I was questioning my most fundamental beliefs.
- Who could trust so capricious a Maker?
- Why care for the morrow when it can be so whimsically ended?
- How can I turn my life over to a Higher Power I don’t trust?
I’d been sober for twenty-two years and yet I felt like a newcomer. I did not know how I’d ever survive the ordeal.
It came to pass that during his two-year-long battle we spent a lot of time together. As I observed Steve, I realized he squeezed every ounce of life out of each day. Then, when his condition worsened, he focused on each hour, and finally, at the end, on each minute. I marveled at his ability to live in the moment.
I, on the other hand, had no such ability, especially in the early months of his illness. I was lost in my dark night.
Then one day Steve suggested we clear some brush on the acre of land he owned near Purdy, Washington. Steve had bought the undeveloped property forty years earlier and as a young man, he and his pals used this campsite as a place to blow off steam. I remember (sort of) a three-day party between Christmas and New Years in 1976. I remember (sort of) waking up in the stream that runs through the property.
We worked clearing brush for half a day and then headed over to the old campsite for lunch. I was deeply ensnared in my dark night and out of sorts about everything, and I could tell Steve knew I was having a hard time. As we ate our tuna sandwiches and dangled our toes in the stream, Steve started in on “Do you remember?” stories.
For the next hour or so we remembered the stories that went back nearly 60 years. One story led to another: playing as kids in the gully behind our home, trips to Soap Lake, the times at St. Anne’s, Seattle Prep, the UW, Dad stories, Mom stories, Kathy, Terry, and Kevin stories, cousins stories, Grandpa Pat stories, soccer stories, John Sloan, Mike Miller, Peter, Bradley and Brendan stories, the Seattle Blues, and, oh, stories of the boys and the many, many happy times with Leslie, Conor, Kelly and Shane.
These were the stories of a good man living a good life who achieved his dreams because he never demanded more from life than he was prepared to give. Steve may not have spent a lot of time pondering the imponderable but in his own way he was among the deepest individuals I ever met.
When we finished our reminiscing a silence came over us for several minutes. Then Steve gently placed his hand on my shoulder and said to me with a squeeze, ”It’s been a good life.”
We then packed up our gear and headed back home. It had been quite a day. I left feeling 50 pounds lighter. The dark cloud had lifted and my spirit soared. Steve demonstrated that in living each day as if it were your last the boundary between here and now and the hereafter becomes immaterial.
Steve passed on the last day of July, 2009. Among his many legacies to me is the knowledge of where to find light when I discover myself in the dark night. It’s always right in front of me with the next person to whom I might be of service.
Just a thought…
Copyright © 2018 Patrick J. Moriarty. All Rights Reserved.
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