April 3, 2015

March of Darkness…

Category: News — Ira @ 6:00 pm


The best way out is always through.

—Robert Frost
Well. This is all pretty strange. I guess I’ll try it one more time. It’s not like I didn’t want to post, at least now and then, these last six weeks. It’s just that when the time came to crank out the writing for this blog, it didn’t seem all that important. Because there was nothing worth saying, that I could see. So I didn’t speak.

It’s been strange. The first time, ever, that I’ve been in this specific, silent place. And some of you out there have been getting a little restive. A few emails came trickling in, the last few weeks. What’s up, that you’re not posting, on the blog? Are you OK? One reader even asked, a little dramatically, I thought. Are you still alive? I appreciated those few notes, those few emails. I really did. And I answered every one.

No. I’m not OK. I’m alive, certainly. But not OK. This is March, and March is the month from hell for me. And this year, I just went down, down into the darkness, in my head. I will write again, when I have something to say, when the voice comes right. Otherwise, I’m staying silent, right where I am.

I’m not real sure just how it happened. It’s not something I was expecting. I kind of felt it coming on, I suppose. I always get real moody in March. So I figured some sort of crap was coming. And it was a little strange, the way it all came down. It’s like I was just walking along through life, minding my own business. That’s what I claim, anyway. And the spirit that is darkness kind of sidled up, and walked right along beside me. I glanced over, startled. Go away, I said. I know who you are. And I don’t need you. Leave me alone. But it whispered, as it walked along beside me. Sweetly, caressingly, oh, so invitingly. Come on. Open the door. Let me in. You know you want to. You won’t know how you really feel, if you don’t. You know you wrote that this is a different kind of year, that everything is on the table. You said you’d take it as it comes. Well, let it be. Let me in. I can show you real things, hard things, that most people can’t confront because they don’t have the strength to see. I can do that, I can show you those things. I promise you. Let me in.

And almost, I got it shrugged off. Almost, I got that spirit rebuked. Get out of here, evil darkness. Leave me alone. And I felt it, the cave closing around me, as mid-month slithered in. It’s a harsh and brutal time. I felt it, inside, the darkness of it. I brooded. And slowly sank. And brooded some more. And sank deeper, faster now.

The month of March is the month of March. There’s no use fighting the darkness of what that means. And I finally gave up. I opened up the door and invited it all in. The rage and pain and fear and shame of all of it. All the way down deep, I absorbed it. OK, March, show me what you got. Give me your best shot. Show me what you claimed you could. The black night closed in all around me. And that was all there was.

That’s where I’ve been, in March. In that dark place. And that’s why I haven’t posted a new blog in six straight weeks.

I’ve been fighting it, most of last year. You could call it deep melancholy. Or you could call it depression, I suppose. Whatever you call it, it’s a dark place, where you feel all sad. And now March closed in and descended. And I was, like, God, come on. You know I don’t want this. I’ve been fighting it, all last year. You know I’ve been trying to kick free from this crap. And I thought I had, at least a little bit. And now it’s sweeping in again. What’s up with that? Why can’t I be free? Is it just me, or are you turning your back on me? I mean, come on. I have wept. I have prayed. I have cast out by the spoken word, what shouldn’t be inside me, I have cast it all out in Jesus’ name. And still, here it creeps back in again, all dark and overwhelming. It’s like it never stops. It keeps invading, sweeping in. Why can’t I be free of this bleak and brutal stuff?

Eight years ago, this blog was launched in March. A week or so after Ellen had left our home. From the darkness of that destructive month, my writing voice was born. And since that time, there has never been a span of six weeks between posts. The longest I ever went, even while I was writing the book, was four weeks. Until now. This year. This March. It went six weeks. To me, that is a pretty startling thing.

It always gets real dark, in that month. Mostly, I had learned to fight it off, at least before it got in, all the way down. At least I thought so. But this year, well, last year is still pretty close, pretty fresh. And last year this time was when my heart went all haywire. When I got hauled off to the hospital and had my heart seared, so it would beat right. I don’t know if I ever processed what all triggered what all happened. Probably not. I know I was pretty depressed, when I got out. Not in a deep dark hole all the time, but just a slow steady grind that kind of waved, roared in and receded, week after week and month after month. It got pretty old.

A little side note, here. Right about the time the ambulance was hauling me off to the emergency room with my tripping heart, right at that moment, my brother Joseph was real sick with pneumonia. And he was in intensive care, hovering between life and death. He came that close to not making it. In that moment, no one knew how either of us were gonna end up. The family staggered with the blow. I mean, two brothers in the hospital at the same time? Joseph and Ira? Yeah, we knew Joseph was sick. But what’s up with Ira? And I think about it, from here. We’re Waglers. We’ve always been tough. Proud. Walking tall. Nothing could knock us down. But we weren’t like that, last March. And it’s kind of touching and kind of funny at the same time. When they told Dad about it, up in Aylmer, he looked all stunned. A ninety-two year-old man, absorbing one more blow. He stroked his long gray beard in shock and sorrow. “Well,” he proclaimed. “I feel like Job, in the Bible. My sons are dropping all around me.”

We both made it back, though. And Dad told me all about what he’d said, when I was down in Pinecraft to see him. You look at it, though. That’s how it went, last March. And this March, I felt the blackness of all the ones that came before, seemed like. And in the middle of all the darkness swooshing all around me, I had one simple focus. And yeah, I know. It should have been something like my deep trust in God, or how my faith sustained me right to the end. And how I was all triumphant. It wasn’t any of that. My one focus was to make it through the month. Not that I ever figured I wouldn’t. Mostly, it was a deep, deep sense of desperately wanting the month to be over. When you’re in the middle of the crap I was in, you focus on some pretty strange things, I guess. But that was my goal, looking back. Just slog through. Make it to the end of March. When April gets here, you can release the darkness.

It was all psychological, pretty much in my head. I knew that, all along. That didn’t make any of it any less real. The days crept by, and slowly, so slowly, the weeks. And then the last weekend. And then a new month dawned, just this week. April. And with it, a new day. I felt it when I got up, that morning of the first. It was gone, pretty much. All through March, when I woke up, the first things I thought of were dark things, of loss and pain and rejection. That first morning in April, I guess the brain cells told themselves. It’s a new month. We don’t have to go there anymore. And they didn’t. I almost couldn’t believe it. And that evening after work, for the first time in six weeks or so, I drove my truck on over to the Malibu Gym in New Holland. I figured it was about time to get to working out again.

It had been way, way too long since I parked where I parked that night. I walked in, half tentatively, clutching my workout bag. Lorraine, the owner, smiled and smiled, as she greeted me. “What am I seeing, a stranger?” She asked. I knew my membership had expired. So I stood and filled out the paperwork she brought me to sign. And we talked, right along. “It’s so good to see you, so good to have you back. I thought maybe you moved away,” she told me. I told her a little bit about how it was, what had happened. I did wander off to a far-away land, in my head, for a while, I said. But I’m back now. Or at least working my way back. She smiled and smiled. And then I went and worked out, for the first time in a long time.

That was the first day of April. And it was a beautiful, beautiful day.

I’m not saying it was all magic, what happened, or that I won’t revert into moodiness in April. I’m sure I will. But I can say, the deep darkness is gone. And it’s gone, too, that paralyzing fog that stifled my voice on this blog. I can speak again. And from where I’ve been and from what I’ve seen in March, I have a few things to say about that darkness, about what it is and what it does to you.

The darkness is pain.

I’m not just talking about the intense pain in the moment of the explosion of a marriage. Or a best friend’s brutal betrayal. Or the slicing pain of a phantom relationship you got led along to believe was real when it never was. (And no, the details of all that are not important. And yes, I way, way overreacted. But it just was what it was, in the time and place and moment it happened. And it was a pretty heavy loss, in my heart and head.) The pain of the scorn of it all. It happens to me about every seven years, right along, seems like. I stick my head up out of the sand, all tentative and shy. And it just promptly gets chopped off. Back down under I go again. That’s how strong the pain of rejection is to me. It’s real, and it’s deep. I’m talking quiet pain, that’s there long after those first waves that just make you think you want to die. It settles in, after everything settles down a bit, it settles, buried way down there, pain so subtle that you don’t even think you’re hurting anymore. But you are. And it slips back up on you, softly, softly, and disturbs your heart. And if you don’t figure out what’s going on, if you don’t deal with it, it morphs into a big old roaring lion. A stalking lion that will devour you. I don’t pretend to know how to get rid of pain such as that. Maybe time will take it. I don’t know. I know all the formulas, about how you just take your pain and give it to God. Give it to Jesus. The kind of darkness I was in just didn’t go there. I knew the truth. But I don’t think the pain did. Or maybe I just wasn’t connecting right. The darkness is pain.

The darkness is fear.

And it’s a deep, deep fear. Fear of getting old. Fear of being alone. Fear of the realization that hits you, sometimes. The deep, desperate realization of just how lonely you really are. You have no one, no one that’s there for you. You stutter and stammer along, all brave and confident, when you aren’t. And there’s fear at other levels, too. I saw my parents get real old. Sick and old. We all know how Mom suffered, before she died. And how Dad is getting way up there, and getting all unhandy and cranky. He’s ninety-three. I look at all that, and I fear it. I don’t want to get that old. I have no desire to. I’d have no one there for me, to care for me. I walk alone. I’ve walked alone most of my life. But, ultimately, when you get old, walking alone will turn into a fearful thing. It just will. The darkness is fear.

The darkness is rage.

It’s rage that stirs from way down deep inside. And this March was a month of rage for me. I was down, anyway. And when I got home from work, after not going to the gym, I had me a vodka or six. Alcohol is a depressant. Mix a depressant with a melancholy (some will say depressed) man, and, well, I raged more in March than I have in a long time. On Facebook, I just went off, in the evenings. I got all confrontational about all kinds of things. I mean, I could have said what I said in a different way. And I would have, if I hadn’t been just enraged about a whole lot of darkness going on inside me. On the Facebook Family Page, I raged, too, about stuff that should never be raged against. Well, mostly, anyway. Bottom line is, I was so angry, all through March. Angry enough that I went back eight years, in my heart, and in my memory. And the rage reached back, that far, to my surprise. I thought it had all been worked through, the crap that came down a long time ago. In March, it hadn’t, apparently. The old rage was quiet, but it ran real deep. I was startled, I must say, to feel it in me. But it was there, and it was real. The darkness is rage.

The darkness is shame.

Of all the emotions triggered by the darkness, shame is the most debilitating. It cuts way down there, way deeper than any of the others. Shame, because of rejection. I’m talking, someone rejected who you are, as a person. It’s a brutal, brutal place to be. It saps you of your strength and drains your will to face the world. It’s an intense and brutal thing that will move in and overwhelm your life, if you let it. It builds upon itself. Shame. And in time, you accept it, just how worthless you are. And in time, you invite the shame of it in, right into your heart, when it really has no business there. It’s tough, for me, to even try to express the deep shame I have felt and continue to feel, in waves. Still. It’s a sin, to invite it in the way I did. Shame, in its proper place, is a good thing. But when the darkness closes in and that’s the main thing you feel, it is a really, really destructive thing. And it’s a sinful thing. The darkness is shame.

And that’s how I see it, the darkness I just came out of. I’m sure there are a whole lot of other emotions that could be listed. The darkness is this, and the darkness is that. And they’re all true. And none of it, whatever it is, is a pretty place to be. I can tell you that, from the place I just came walking from.

But I just have to think, from where I am. It’s Good Friday, today. The Passion of the Christ. Maybe it wasn’t coincidence, that I emerged back into the light a few days before Good Friday. Maybe I can grasp it for real this year, what the day really stands for. Always before, it was just rote talk, mostly. Yeah. It’s the day Jesus died for our sins. He suffered on the cross. You can hear those words again and again, and it never really sinks in, what they mean.

Jesus died for my sins. What the heck does that mean, if you think you ain’t a sinner? Trust me. You are. I can tell you that. And I can tell you this, too. Salvation is a gift, all of it. It never was anything you earned, in any way. It’s a gift. And it don’t matter what dark places you revisit after you receive that gift. Don’t matter how dark it gets. I know He’s there, and I know I am His child. I will never not be. The Lord does not divorce His children. He never has. He never will. I know this, but I invited the darkness in anyway. I really have to grasp hard, to get a glimpse of the fact that Jesus died for the very darkness that enveloped me. He took it all upon Himself. All the pain, all the fear, all the rage, all the shame. That’s what Good Friday really is all about. That, right there. I’ve never, ever seen it so clearly before. It’s like a curtain of some kind just got lifted up.

A mustard seed of faith. That’s all it takes. That’s all it ever took. And I’m glad. Because that’s all I’ve ever claimed to have. And I wonder sometimes, if I’ve even got that much.

OK. Winding down, here. On Wednesday, the first day of this month, a good friend of mine came strolling through the door at work. I’ll just call him by his last name. Smucker. I’ve known the man for years. I’ve worked with him, day to day, in the past. And he’s just about the most non-judgmental Christian I’ve ever met. He looks you in the eye. Tells you his stories, and listens to your talk. And I can speak to the man from my heart, like I can to very few others. Because I know he’s not judging me, whatever it is I’m telling him.

And on Wednesday, he strolled in at work. I was on the phone, so he chatted with Rosita and the others for a while. After I got off, I greeted him. He smiled. “Just stopping by to see how it’s going,” he said. “It’s not March anymore.” He had obviously been following my inflammatory rants on Facebook all that month. Well, you know what? I said. It really is different today. Something snapped somewhere, something changed. It’s different. Not saying I won’t get all brooding in April anytime. But I’m out of the worst of it. Must be psychological.

And we just talked a bit. “Did you get people to pray for you, when you were all down like that?” he asked. I just stared at him. It never occurred to me, to do that, and I told him so. When the darkness closes in, I just like to curl up in the fetal position, and face it alone, I said. That’s just the way I’ve always done it. He smiled. He understood, but he wasn’t buying it.

“Well, maybe that’s because you like doing that,” he said. “Next time you feel it coming on, call me. I’ll get some praying going on, on your behalf.” Thanks, I will do that, I said. And I thought about it, after he left. The man had actually stopped by just to see how I was doing. He really had. It made me feel all humble and all good.

The next time the darkness comes walking along beside me, whispering to be let in, I will call Smucker and tell him. And we both know darn well there will be a next time. I’m thinking I might not have to go down so deep, though, what with his prayers and all.

We’ll just see how it goes when the darkness comes calling again.

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