I hope I don’t die in the spring.
I remember exactly where I was when I had that disconcerting thought. I was driving with the sunroof open through the busiest intersection of my urban neighborhood, looking up at a billboard while the sun glared behind it. The city workers had started putting barrels of flowers on the sidewalks for aesthetic purposes, and I lilacs were blooming in front of the garage next to the condo I had just bought with my newlywed husband.
Spring, my favorite time of year, was drawing people out of triple-deckers, buds out of branches and shoots out of the ground after a winter of record snowfall. I knew I should be joyful and rejuvenated, as I am every year when the chill finally lifts from Boston, but my heart was heavy and full of dread. This is what it must feel like to be dying, I thought. It would be easier if everything else around me were dying too. I hope I don’t die in the spring.
Looking back, it’s a good sign that I imagined my death to be many decades away. I had spent a fair amount of my winter in the hospital, first seeking relief from my ongoing battle with Crohn’s disease, then having surgery to relieve it, then having a second surgery to reverse my temporary ostomy. Knowing what I knew about the fragility of health and beaten up by a disease I’d done nothing to deserve, expecting to live until old age was a triumph of optimism over recent experience.
That kernel of hope was one of the few good things growing in me. The stress of illness and convalescence brought out dread in my heart. I lay awake with obsessive thoughts and guilt over gaining weight now that I could eat again. Flashes of rage – usually self-directed – popped up without warning. Living with an ostomy had for two months had left me feeling out of control and foul. My body, weakened with inactivity, could barely walk without pain, and I was terrified that this new pain would become chronic.
This was a dark night of the soul – and of the mind, and the heart, and the body. It certainly felt like part of me was dying.
Slowly, over the course of the summer and into the fall, some part of me was reborn as well. Part of it was the miracle and mystery of time. What else helped? Therapy. Exercise (and the physical therapy that made it possible. As it turns out my pain was not chronic). Faith.
Faith had to look different during those hard months that followed hard years. I had no strength to will myself into belief. I had to let faith happen to me. Sometimes this meant letting my friends and family carry me, letting them believe for me as we went to church, as we sat in prayer, as we did acts of service. Sometimes it meant going through motions, as I had for all those months that I had to sit during mass because I was too weak to stand. I knew I could trust the motions to lead me into inexplicable – and perhaps imperceptible – grace.
I let myself be carried, and I waited. And I trusted.
I’m out of that dark night now, though I know that these little deaths and rebirths are a part of life and that dark nights will be back for me. I also know that my strength comes not from anything I do, but from the communities I have around me that lift me up.
How have you come out of your dark places?