I just finished reading a book called “Everything Happens for a Reason-(and other lies I’ve loved)” by Kate Bowler. She was diagnosed a few years ago with stage 4 colon cancer, and her book is frank and honest and beautifully puts words to things that are hard to talk about. One quote from the book especially hit home for me:
“I can’t reconcile the way that the world is jolted by events that are wonderful and terrible, the gorgeous and the tragic. Except I am beginning to believe that these opposites do not cancel each other out. I think the same thoughts again and again:
Life is so beautiful.
Life is so hard.”
After reading her book, I found her podcast, “Everything Happens,” and through that have found connections to other people and websites that I have found so nourishing. In one of the podcasts, she has a discussion with a guest where she talks about light and darkness. They talk about how we all want to live in the light, but that is only half of a life. The other half of our lives are spent in darkness, literally, and sometimes, it feels like, metaphorically as well. There are times when life is so hard that it feels like the darkness overwhelms the light. But both are necessary in our lives.
In Chinese philosophy, yin and yang describes how seemingly opposite or contrary forces may actually be complementary, interconnected, and interdependent in the natural world, represented by this symbol:
Light in the darkness and darkness in the light. How could we appreciate the joy in our lives if we had not also known sorrow? And just think of all the things that would not be as beautiful if they didn’t happen in the dark… fireflies, campfires, fireworks, shooting stars, Northern Lights, holiday lights. Not only are they more beautiful in the darkness, but if some of them happened in the daylight, we would never even notice them. Many kids are scared of the dark. But darkness doesn’t have to be scary. There is beauty to be found there as well.
When I went through my battle with cancer, I would always get frustrated, during support groups, when someone would refer to cancer as a “gift.” No. A gift is something I would give to someone, and cancer definitely didn’t fall into that category. Instead, I saw cancer as a huge, dark cloud…but one that was full of silver linings. The largest of those silver linings was the love, support, and grace that surrounded us, as we were reminded that we weren’t alone in this battle. So many people were the light in our darkness, and for that we are eternally grateful. Cancer also brings life into sharper focus. It makes you appreciate all the smaller joys that surround us every day, that are easy to miss until you feel engulfed in darkness. Then their light shines through, and that light doesn’t leave you, even when the battle is over.
When Derek passed away last spring, all of the Voyagers from the summer before came for the funeral, and spent the night together the night before. I remember talking to one of their parents, who told me their son had said how much he was looking forward to seeing all of his friends, but that he felt guilty even feeling that excitement, since the circumstances surrounded such a horrible loss. But that is how we survive life. If we don’t find the joy, the darkness can overwhelm us. Both exist in life, and in times of sadness, we have to seek out those spots of light, and hold them close. As Kate Bowler said, “I’m beginning to believe that these opposites do not cancel each other out.”
January feels like an appropriate time for this blog post. The holidays are over, the lights come down, and we are faced with “cookieless January” as it’s known in our house. There is such joy and excitement, leading up to December holidays, that January can feel like a huge let down. While technically the days are getting incrementally longer, sometimes in the winter months we can go days without seeing the sun. But the light is still there. It still surrounds us, even in the dark winter months.
This year we have celebrated weddings together, and mourned the loss of those we loved. But we are the lucky ones, to be part of a family, near and far, who will be there for us both for the celebrations, as well as the sadness. Not everyone is so lucky. And in this month of resolutions, maybe we could all make that one of each of ours. To be the light in someone’s darkness.