It’s Time I Take My Own Advice (or, What To Do When the Darkness Descends)

Abra contemplating a recent snow storm.
Abra contemplating a recent snow storm.

You know those weeks? Those weeks when work still isn’t showing up and that bookshelf just doesn’t seem to paint itself and you find out the transmission is out on your truck so there goes $3000 you don’t have? You know those kind of weeks?

Yeah, we had one of those last week.

I’ve felt it for the last month, that descending into a certain period of time you’ve experienced before and don’t necessarily look forward to experiencing again. Do you know what I’m talking about? It’s that sense of a gradual lowering, the way they used to lower miners down, down, down into the darkness with nothing but a headlamp and a hammer. I sensed it coming a few months ago, but I couldn’t describe it and I tried to avoid thinking about it. No one likes the quiet and the shadows that fill these valleys of life.

But there’s something I say every time I give a book talk for The Day the Angels Fell, and I guess it’s time to see if I believe it or not: There is no resurrection or redemption without some kind of death. Something is passing away in me now, something that needs to die all the way. I can’t put my finger on it yet, so I take a deep breath, and down we go.

* * * * *

I couldn’t help but apologize to the couple at the end of our two-hour conversation.

“I’m really sorry,” I said, trying to steady my voice. “I know this is tough ground for you to cover, and I’m sorry I have to drag you through it every week.”

Their daughter committed suicide 20 years ago, left behind 22 journals, and they hired me to write their story. I’ve written about it before. But last week, it was a tougher session than usual. Brutal memories and questions and uncertainty.

“I’m really sorry,” I said again.

“No, it’s okay,” the mother said.

“You know,” the father said. “There’s an element of this process that brings her back to life for us.”

Silence on the other line. I could tell they were descending through their own valley, their own mineshaft.

“Are you okay?” she asked him. I could barely hear their voices through the phone line. It felt like I was eavesdropping on a private moment.

“Yeah,” he said quietly, clearing his throat. “Yeah, I’m okay.”

* * * * *

One of the central premises of The Day the Angels Fell is that Death is a gift. And it’s so hard for me to accept. Rationally, I get it. But in my heart? It’s hard.

So when I gave a book talk and read the first chapter at Pequea Valley Library last week, and when a large portion of those in the audience were part of a family who had just lost someone last summer, I found myself apologizing for that premise.

“I know it’s hard to understand,” I said. “And I don’t want to be insensitive about this idea that death is a gift.”

They listened quietly, those family members of my friend who had died: his brother and sister-in-law, his mother and father, his nephew and niece, his friends. Afterwards they came up and hugged me and we talked about books and they were so encouraging, everyone clamoring for a sequel and asking about details in the book, which is of course the best way to make your writer friends very happy.

But at the very end, when chairs are being put away and tables are being repositioned, the mom came up to me and gave me an extra hug.

“You don’t have to apologize about that,” she said with emotion in her voice. “You don’t have to apologize about death being a gift.”

* * * * *

All of that to say, we are surrounded by courageous people. Have you taken the time to notice them? I find that these days, when the darkness is most palpable, I cling to the courage of others, those that go before me, fighting battles, climbing mountains. I watch in awe the paths they are able to navigate, and it gives me fresh determination to take the next step of my own.

The darkness never seems quite so dark when you’re being lowered down into it with someone else, someone who can be courageous when you start to feel the fear rising.

Thank you for being courageous for me.

* * * * *

If you want to read the first chapter of The Day the Angels Fell, you can check that out over at Caleb Wilde’s blog (you’ll also find a link there to purchase the ebook for $3.99).

10 Replies to “It’s Time I Take My Own Advice (or, What To Do When the Darkness Descends)”

  1. I was thinking about this yesterday as John and I were both so palpably stressed and worn down and uncertain, it felt like a familiar bad dream. Somehow, though, I remembered that a few weeks back, it wasn’t that way and that, in a few weeks more it will likely pass again. I wonder what the light and hammer can be used for, I wonder who’s holding the rope, and I wonder what treasure will be found and carried to the surface?
    And, yes, the engine light is on in the van – it’s always something :)!

  2. Shawn, I can’t imagine– nor do I want to– the kind of utter grief these folks suffered. But I do have an inkling of the darkness you talk about and have had to swim through my own thick version of this stuff in the last two years. I shared a bit about it on my blog recently and won’t rehash it here, but like you, I am thankful beyond words for those who lent me courage, compassion, grace, and humor when I could seen to find my own.

  3. Shawn, it always starts my day off on a mindful note to read your posts. Thank you for sharing! I just wanted to offer some encouragement. Reading this post makes me realize how much courage it takes to really step out and follow your calling and raise your family in such a way that depends on the Lord. IMHO, It is so evident that your children are being raised in a loving family home with parents who are present and seeking Wholeness for their life, through their vocational decisions. I’m a Christian counselor who espouses this msg often, the message of simplicity, of living true to your calling, of stepping out of the rat race of our culture. I also try to live this way myself. But in a good way, your story reminds me that I still play it safe often. Sometimes too safe. You are learning to rely more on God and that is inspiring to us all. I’ll be praying for these challenges to work out and for a breath of fresh air and hope to fall upon you. I definitely understand this descent into darkness that you speak of. For me, I’d often comes on the heels of doing something big or creative. It’s the enemy’s way of getting me down , for sure. I’ll pray that this can continue to be a season of celebration of your book. If reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones too. We are excited to come to your signing in April. Spring (literally and figuratively) is just around the corner! Blessings to you and your family.

  4. TDTAF is about more than one difficult subject. Consider also: selfishness; the breaking up of friendships; the loneliness of old age. (I hope none of the above are considered spoilers, because I never said who did what. Delete this comment if those are too spoilery, however.) It’s about a whole bouquet of thorns, but ones that sprout those tiny, wild dog-roses that bloom in May around here. You have to be patient for those roses, and they don’t last as long as human-bred cultivars. But somehow, they’re my favorite. And they always, always show up.

    (There was a despairing period of my life, the part where I was in the abusive marriage, where I put my faith in a forsythia bush behind our apartment. When the groundskeepers at the complex mowed it back to a stump, I took that as a sign that it would be time to get out soon. Lo and behold…)

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