Learning to Walk in the Dung

2016-03-10-1457624635-614561-schoolbus2.jpg There's a small church nearby with a sign out front that reads: Come Worship Where the Sun's Always Shining!

Wild horses couldn't drag me inside.

Good things can happen in the dark. Like this: I was sitting on the swing on my deeply-shaded porch when I noticed that a long-lasting funk had flown. I'd spent 81 solid days last summer taking care of my autistic daughter, and, I admit, not a morning went by I didn't miss the sound of the school bus's gasping brakes at the end of the drive. Bless you, big yellow school bus! I stopped swinging and whispered thanks once again for God's greatest gift: special education.

That was four weeks ago. School started back in mid-August. It was a really crappy summer. I mean, I was knee-deep in it. Recovery from the reeling takes time.

I love my 13-going-on-3 disabled daughter. I love seeing her run. I love when she inhales an Oreo while making Cookie Monster noises. Heck, I love watching her sleep. I don't love it when she runs away, bites me, or, God forbid, plays the game Misadventures With My Diaper. (Can you say hydrogen peroxide?) I get tired and overwhelmed sometimes--and I can count on one hand the places we can go without risking a meltdown (hers, not mine), so I get lonely.

But I have 7.5 hours to myself these days--that's been the case since fall. So why did I spend half the year recovering? Shouldn't I have hurried up and felt better, made haste to slap on a smile? If God loves a cheerful heart, what did he think of my sad-ass soul?

I was stuck. To make matters worse, without realizing it, I'd piled shame on top of sorrow. I refused to use the d-word. Basically, I felt bad for feeling so bad.

During my gloom, I read Barbara Brown Taylor's Learning to Walk in the Dark. I liked it. I liked it a lot. I officially developed a writerly crush on BBT.

It took a while, but I found this: there's nothing harder than succumbing to sad or scared except for the dread of it.

I'd bought the subtle church-y lie that if you find yourself under a cloud, you'd better step right quick into the light. But I don't think my contempt for the uncomfortable stemmed only from sunny theology (BBT writes about "full solar spirituality"). Ours is a problem-solving, pleasure-seeking culture--happiness is our most precious commodity. You're supposed to keep up with those super-perky Joneses.

I was raised on a trinity of high virtues: Strength, Stability and a Positive Attitude. Tugging on those proverbial bootstraps got me far--and it worked, to a degree, under normal circumstances. But situation normal got seriously all fouled up.

So what if you have a Dark Night of the Soul every now and then? If you're brave enough, you will.

If you're really brave, you'll resist numbing with Netflix or novels to ease your insomnia, and you'll pull your Wellies over your pajama pants and venture on a moonless night into the yard--all the way down the hill to the edge of the woods--and lift your eyes to beseech the still, black sky.

Not that I've done that.

Hoping no one inside the house notices you're missing, you chide yourself for being such a ridiculous romantic. Who do you think you are, Teresa of Avila? Nevertheless, you wait for your mystic moment. It eludes you.

But you stood empty, enveloped in velvety darkness, and this sets you apart. You feel something shift. Even if you were only sending up a constellation of questions, or one big question--why?--you faced head-on whatever it is that keeps you awake and aired it out befittingly, in the dead of night. You went outdoors and asked God why he was bugging you when you should be sleeping.

He didn't answer. You're strangely okay with that.

So you experiment with not being so quick to chase away the shadows by flipping on a light. You're an expert at living a one-hundred-watt life, and you have a lot of clever tricks: busyness, shopping, a second glass of Shiraz. You get the dog to the vet and make a Costco run in one afternoon--score! But sooner or later, everything sounds like a dim hum. You remember there's supposed to be magic. Tuesday, however, looks a lot like Monday, and so on--no fizzle, just flat. You know bunches of your suburban comrades walk around this way, forgetting to look at the sky. You see it in their bored eyes. You send them prayers of lovingkindness.

Then you dare to ask one for yourself.

You make allowances for the uglier emotions, get curious but not all judgey about them. This is called mindfulness. You feel a little hippie-dippy, but you like it. You like it a lot. You are surprised at how feelings come and go. Look, Jane, look, see how they pass! And sure enough, the door is eventually thrown wide open for the other half: the heights.

You'd been missing them. You'd been told, but suddenly you know you can't have the heights without the depths. And vice-versa.

You took your time about it, but you did the work. You said the d-word in all its three-syllable glory. With the help of a counselor and some diet and medication tweaks and perhaps, most importantly, registering your child for a therapy program for the impending summer, you see glimpses of what's next. After a long, lukewarm bath of apathy, you grown keen. "Leaves of Grass" and all that.

Kinda makes you want to visit the ole' backyard at 1 a.m., doesn't it?

The other day, my high school-aged daughter confessed her loneliness. She has been sitting alone at lunchtime. What heartache! But what beauty in the confiding. I got to tell her I get it. I did not tell her to buck up or that pouting is not becoming. Cheered, she volunteered to make dinner that night--cooking is her love language. She printed out a menu and placed it on our plates. The kitchen smelled like browned butter and sage, where a few hours before there had been tears.

I filled my plate with seconds on parmesan-spiked potatoes and thought about strange bedfellows: weak and strong, cracked but with glue still holding. Bright sadness. We can be two things at once.

We have to be. The sun ain't gonna shine every minute of every day.