If life were a bell curve, this season of mine would be drawn as a downslope. My father, an English teacher, once said, “No one ever writes about how it feels to be nauseated.” And it’s true that although that sensation has figured prominently in my last few months, I haven’t wanted to write about it, or the other forms of physical and mental discomfort I’ve been experiencing. My goal for this blog is to inspire and empower readers, and I doubt reading about nausea would help.
A friend asked me whether my intention means I can write only about happy things. Which does seem unreasonable, as well as annoying. She surmised that I might learn things worth knowing from my battle with Lyme, but those famous silver linings might not come to light until after the experience has passed, and I can reflect back on it. I’m skeptical of that kind of transcendence though – it’s too easy to wax enlightened after an event, once you know you’re safely past it. Any clever person with a penchant for seeing the bright side can pull off that trick.
But I stubbornly feel that transcendence ought to be possible in the very thick of suffering, in the messy heart of it. I believe that light exists alongside and in the midst of darkness, not merely following it, as day follows night. My friend wasn’t sure – isn’t transcendence by definition moving beyond a situation? Can we move beyond something while we’re still in its midst?
And can we do this in a way that doesn’t deny the reality of the experience, its right to exist and be acknowledged? I’ve always wondered what the word redemption means, not as an idea or a consolation, but as something to live. Viktor Frankl wrote of what he called the final human freedom, the ability to “choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances — to choose one’s own way.”
I once dreamt I was being given a tour of the underworld. It wasn’t a particularly hellish place, just very dark and quiet. Which meant that every glimmer of light caught the eye: a faint glow burnishing the train tracks, the bioluminescence of small creatures living in the Lethe, radiant mushrooms adorning tree trunks like scattered jewels. Confiding my impression of Hades to my guide, I said wonderingly, “I never knew there was so much light in the dark.”