The darkness comes for us all sooner or later. Terror not of our own making magnetizes us like a black hole into unendurable pain.
It often starts with an ember, a spark we try to control. But it develops a life of its own, swelling into blinding heat, into raging fire from which there is no escape. Choked by smoke, we are swallowed by a nightmare.
The night we left our child at a psychiatric hospital, the darkness closed around me, even as the fires of hell burned closer than I could bear.
Helplessly I watched the forest floor inflame during the preceding week. Specialists applied their expertise, as if they were spitting at a raging blaze.
Just a fragile eleven years old, the trauma of the past, before we even knew this child, stalks relentlessly. Committed to loving this child for life, we follow blindly into the inferno.
The primal screaming as two personnel carry the child across an open, night-time lawn to another building still echoes in a place where I close my eyes and rock in a fetal position to shut it out; but the sounds, the smells, the fear follows me inside my head. I see a girl with half her hair missing, a boy with hollow eyes. A girl no one ever visits. My own child in their midst.
There is no alternate route this time. Only through.
I can still hear the clanking of the door behind us, a solid metal door powerless against those raw screams. The empty sterile hallway can not absorb them as they bounce down its endless length through two more locked doors. I tell my feet to keep walking, just keep walking. Until we stand in the empty entryway, facing an unlocked door where we are free to pass. But our hearts refuse to come with us. With tear-pooled eyes we clutch one another wordlessly: tight, tighter still, as if through our physical closeness we can somehow squeeze out this unbearable pain.
Everything I am afraid of steps out of the shadows and swallows me in reality, laughing like a storybook villain. Finally there is nothing left to do but open that door and go back out into the cold night.
And then there is this letting go. Every last vestige of control sinks like the speck it is to the bottom of a violent sea. And I fly straight into the bull’s eye of what I am certain will be annihilation.
Except that in the intervening year, I meet Someone in the furnace.
He shoulders the flames with me. I find myself yoked to Him. I know Him, but I’ve never known Him like this.
And when it is time, He whispers, “Divert from this path. You are free.”
And a way inexplicably yawns wide. Tender blue skies call my name.
I emerge, blinking in surprise, not charred beyond recognition as I expect, but somehow like gold from the smelting, like a butterfly fresh from the cocoon. New sun warms my wings, floods the irreparable ache.
He gathers treasure from the darkness and spreads it gently across my back like glittering gemstones. He forms the winds lifting me to the other side, into realms of unimaginable light.
The skies are not big enough to hold this freedom. I see clearly now, they are too small to hold a soul on fire.