At the end of this week, my soul feels battered. There is a weariness, an attentiveness to pain and grief. Yesterday a good friend and colleague from India, Vijay, was buried in the Indian Christian Cemetery in Pune. He was only in his mid 40’s, and leaves behind his precious wife Baizine and two teenage sons, Christian and Nathan. Vijay had struggled with health problems for some time, but on Tuesday had a massive stroke and resulting coma from which he never woke up.
Just the day before, parts of the continental United States experienced the first total solar eclipse in the last 99 years. (photo in this blog post was taken in Oregon, the first state to see the eclipse, but I didn’t take it! It is courtesy Facebook.) Where we were in Washington state, there was only a partial eclipse, but it still caused the morning light to turn a strange shade and city and car lights to turn eerily on.
But what struck me on Monday was the reports of people in 14 states that experienced “totality”, or complete darkness happening due to the moon being fully in front of the sun. Though the total darkness lasted usually only for almost 2 minutes, people celebrated. There were parties and concerts leading up to it, and they continued for some time after. During the actual darkness, in some places people screamed in delight, cheered, and sang at the top of their lungs. Celebrating the darkness. I’m sure there were many others that had a reaction of awed silence, but I did hear the sounds on the radio of those fully celebrating. (I’m waiting for direct reports of friends that were in the areas of “totality”.)
Perhaps the strangeness of the event, of darkness in the middle of the day, caused a reaction of celebration. Or the sheer joy of knowing that this could be a once in a lifetime event to experience. But normally of course darkness is not something we celebrate. It is usually something we do anything to avoid. Especially the darkness of death, of pain, of grief, of suffering. Yet as much as we want to live lives devoid of darkness, the “moon” of adversity (of a good friend suddenly dying, of so many small or large difficult experiences,) has a way of coming in front of the “sun” of our lives. Whether partially, or at times even with “totality”.
Just a week before the eclipse and Vijay’s stroke in Pune, my daughter read me a profound paragraph by a Sikh-American civil rights activist/writer named Valarie Kaur. I posted the quote also on my Facebook wall on India’s Independence Day on August 15th, as it seemed to sum up some of the struggles both India and the US are going through right now. Struggles to define national identity, and what is a future large enough to include many different ethnicities and faiths. As you read it, think about how different darkness can be depending on the perspective:
“What if this darkness is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb? What if our America is not dead but a country that is waiting to be born? What if the story of America is one long labor? What if this is our nation’s great transition?”
There is so much to ponder just in this short paragraph, part of a longer speech. You don’t have to agree with her political stance (or even know what it is) to hear with attentiveness the profound perspective she has on darkness and struggle. What if this darkness is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb? Not a darkness that leads to never-ending death, but a darkness before new life emerges. This of course mirrors beautifully the darkness of the tomb of Jesus after death on the cross. It was not the darkness of final death, but the darkness of the womb leading to the resurrection of new life.
Is your soul feeling battered right now? Your inner life feeling weary, exhausted with the constant bickering over political partisan divisions? Or like me, someone dear to you having died or suffering greatly from a disease whether of the body or the inner person?Please know today, as I need to, that what seems to be the darkness of a tomb could also be the darkness of the womb. It may be too much to ask that we celebrate the darkness, like some of the “totality” friends. But changing our perspective on the darkness can be a small seed that can lead to a longer term place of comfort in our lasting grief.