I go missing sometimes. I know that, and I know it is always wrong, but it still happens. I realize one day I’m physically here, but mentally I’ve checked out. I’m in the darkness, the elsewhere, doing everything on automatic. Meeting my commitments out of duty, not out of passion for whatever it is I’m doing.
I’ve been missing more than a year now. Here but not. A lot happened in that year, very little of it good. It was shades and shades of darkness. Very little color. The best way to cope with darkness would have been to write. That would have helped me through it. Yet I chose not to. Why do we so often make decisions that harm us?
Instead I went missing.
It was easier. Seductive. The lazy way out. A year that began with a knee bleeding internally …that might have been the high-water mark …and ended with the death of my sister after her long fight with cancer. It seemed I was always on the edge of one catastrophe or another. This will come as a surprise to those who see me daily, if for no other reason than I got things done. Not the things that really mattered to me, perhaps, but done just the same.
The slide to the bottom started on a warm summer afternoon after one of my sister’s chemotherapy sessions. She said that once she was back to full strength, we would go out to dinner. A voice deep within me whispered something I shared with no one until now: “That won’t happen.”
I’d heard that voice just one before, in 1982. My fiancé and I were talking about our “future plans.” The specifics I can’t recall but she substance was the wedding we were planning for the spring. It was then I first heard that strange, internal voice. It whispered to me that our wedding would never happen. She won’t be there. Clear as a bell. Ominous words. Prophetic words.
I don’t know why that voice came. Everything seemed fine. My fiancé had won a battle against cancer years before, as a teenager long before I entered her life. Her victory seemed complete. She had regular checkups and blood tests with no issues. She was living her life. She was vibrant. She was the mother of a child she adored and cherished. Now was going to be married. Her whole life was ahead of her.
Until it wasn’t.
Not long after I heard the voice, she had routine testing. There was an issue with her blood. The “issue” was leukemia, and she died the following winter.
I went missing for quite a while after I lost her. There, but not there. Meeting my commitments. Sometimes I tried to surface. When I did, I behaved badly. I drank too much. I was angry. I slept around. I ruined relationships, on purpose I think, with any woman I went out with. At some point, I realized I was surrounded by darkness and I began looking for light again. I can’t recall any watershed moment when things suddenly got better. I didn’t magically find all the light at once. It was a slow lifting of darkness until one day I realized I’d re-emerged.
Over the years that followed there were some epic struggles with life. Sometimes I saw the darkness, off in the distance and trying to draw closer, and I pushed it away. I thought it was, perhaps, gone forever. Vanquished. Ass-kicked. Shown the door and don’t let it hit ya where it split ya. See you again never.
Until last year when darkness returned. I was able to keep it at arms-length. I functioned at a high level. I got stuff done. But darkness is patient. Darkness is persistent. Darkness picks its moments, and then strikes when you can least resist.
When my sister died a few weeks before Christmas in 2019, darkness fell quickly. I fought back. I leaned heavily on my religion, and it helped. Part of me, however, was becoming hard and uncaring. Some who know me might tell me that wasn’t so. That I seemed no different, just perhaps a little tired. I was still cracking jokes. More jokes than ever. A laugh a minute. A laugh riot, in fact. Because that’s how I deal darkness. The more it tugs at my sleeve, the funnier I get. If I make you laugh out loud, ask yourself what I’m hiding or what I’m fighting. Don’t bother asking me, because I’ll probably lie and say I’m fine. Never better. Walking on rays of golden sunshine.
In truth, I felt nothing at all for most of the last year because darkness had stolen the joy from my life. Darkness had the upper hand until the other morning, when I was pulled away from the shadows and back (hopefully) on a path to the light.
It was eight in the morning on a Thursday, and I pulled into the lot at work. A car was parked in the handicapped spot. A woman stood next to the vehicle, talking on her phone. The store didn’t open for an hour, and I didn’t want to deal with someone hoping to get in early. I made the tactical decision to walk all the way around the building from behind just to avoid her.
When I came around the corner to the front of the building, she stood on the sidewalk between me and the door, still on her phone. She saw me and said: “My car broke down, sir. I’m sorry. I’m on the phone with Triple-A. What street is this?”
I told her, and she said again how sorry she was. She seemed frail and her eyes were tired. She looked cold. I told her it wasn’t a problem, that she could wait as long as necessary. I went inside, walked to the back office and sat at my desk.
And once again a voice came. A different voice. It challenged me to choose …to embrace …either darkness or light.
So I chose.
I made the woman a cup of hot chocolate and took it out to her. Her tow truck was due any minute, she told me as she apologized yet again. I handed her the cup and I went back inside. When the tow truck came, she walked to the front of the locked store. I watched on the security camera as she looked for me in the darkened storefront.
She probably wanted to thank me for the hot chocolate. I wasn’t deserving. She had done far more for me than I had for her. She was the flicker of light that I needed to push back against the darkness. She reminded me that every one of us fights the darkness, some with great success and some never escaping its grasp. She reminded me that sometimes bringing light to others is the only way to fight darkness. Little victories. Human connection. Only through reaching out to help others can we hope to heal ourselves.
It is still there, the darkness. It calls. It beckons. It may win. But not today. And perhaps not tomorrow. As long as there is a flicker of light, there is hope. Hope can be a dangerous thing, but hopelessness is surrender.
…be good to each other. Keep looking for the light, and when you find it …share it.