I’ve been carrying a darkness in my heart for more than thirty years. It emerges on an irregular basis to knock me back on my heels. I try not to ponder on it very long as it can suck me down it’s maw with a loud slurp. No place is particularly safe from it. It has appeared in the middle of the day with sunshine filling a northern California cloudless sky. I have felt its tug as I danced with my mother at my brother’s wedding, ushering her in a robin’s egg blue dress to the floor, as part of the first dance.
It took hold, for a moment, as I looked at my daughter’s face, fresh from the birth canal, as she took her first breath and opened one stunningly bright blue eye to survey her new world. It has held me in thrall as I stared in the mirror at age lines reminiscent of his face and grey hairs saying like father like son.
I have heard its voice as a discreet undertone to Maria Callas singing Visi D’Arte through my iPod headphones and knew its groan as an undercurrent to my singing Ave Maria in a packed church one blistering hot August Sunday.
It caught me unawares, on a cold, but snapping winter night in Ohio on a run along the Olentangy River, stars crystalline bright overhead and made me slip and land on my ass. It has held my hand at funerals and birthday parties. It has soured the taste of fine champagne at 50- and 60-year celebrations.
Sometimes workdays would fill with its persistence, louder in my head than the calls of disgruntled parents or angry children and staff. It interlaced my fingers as I fumbled through braiding my daughter’s hair or caressing my wife’s backside. It made me focus on the joys of life knowing they could be gone in an instant, unrecoverable.
I can feel it press me forward to risk foolish things and pull me into discomfort keeping me from achieving a success. It walks with me, sits with me, sleeps and makes love with me; sometimes without respite.
It was a Thursday evening and my father’s last gasps of life were hinged on my breath. My air in was forced back into the world under the press of my hands and the weight of my body. Over and over, until the ambulance arrived and declared all I had done was futile. He was dead. He would not see any element of the future that stretched before the rest of us. We would proceed forward without his presence. He died and I, his eldest, could not save him in so many ways.
I have carried that responsibility since age ten with only brief periods of tranquility. Such reprieve always crashed-exploded-careeened out of control. As the eldest, salvation was my responsibility and in this I failed. I failed at the moment there was so much to live for; a future he would have floated happily inside, if he could have remained. If he stayed it might have stopped being my responsibility. I could have passed the torch back to him. Instead, it is mine, every day, mine. My companion, every day.
I can stand at the edge of the maw poised, looking over, for just so long. A Zen teacher once said we must live in our moment and feel them complete, that is how we achieve a balance. I’m not sure staying in this dark moment until I have experienced it all is sustainable.
I recently saw a picture in the press assembled to show a black hole: a profoundly dark disk surrounded by a halo of shattering fire. I am told the fashioned photo shows light being swallowed into the void. The vibrant light lost to the utter blackness.
In my life, I feel like a crossing guard trying to hold back the joys from disappearing; to be in the moment with them; to relish in them. But it does get harder. I continue to seek the Zen, to find a balanced connection between here and the void. Seems pretty damn daunting though.