Last week marked one year since my 15-year-old son Christian died tragically and unexpectedly. The last 365+ days have been the darkest night my soul has known.
St. John of the Cross detailed a dark night of the soul in his poetry as “a spiritual crisis in the journey toward union with God.” Other perspectives define it as “an extremely difficult and painful period in one’s life, for example, after the death of a loved one; the break-up of a marriage; or the diagnosis of a life-threatening illness.” Ultimately, we all have experienced dark nights of the soul to varying degrees.
In 51 years of life, I have experienced several dark nights. While each experience has helped me peel away facades and grow into more of my true self, nothing prepared me for the darkness I have experienced in the aftermath of losing Christian. The crushing, burning pressure in my chest as anxiety regularly takes hold. The constant trying to understand why and asking “what if” questions that in my mind would have prevented the tragedy but ultimately have no impact on reality. The loss of purpose in life and having to will myself through the day, only to wake up tomorrow and have to will myself through again. Lying awake in the darkness of the night, searching for some measure of meaning in this tragic loss that my head cannot comprehend and my heart refuses to believe. Carrying a grief that feels so deep and unending, yet possessing a broken heart more open to love than ever before.
How come tragedy can strip away the daily trials and tribulations that divide and help us find our core humanity to love people for who they are, not what we expect them to be? On September 11, 2001, the political party, religious beliefs, color of skin, or who someone loved didn’t matter. We lost wives, husbands, parents, brothers, sisters, children, and friends. We mourned for our common loss, embraced our humanity, and came together to love each other through it. There are countless examples of tragedies that provide clarity on who we are, bring us together. and help us focus on what is truly important in life. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to last, as there are those who choose to influence and divide us because it feeds their own purpose, and we slowly slip back into our divisions of comfort.
On a smaller but no less meaningful scale, this is the clarity that I continue to discover since I lost my son. Love is truly what matters in life. It is what people want and need; yet somehow, we find ways to limit its healing power. We spend so much time focused on our differences, fixated on how we were wronged, or judging people we have never met. We criticize without understanding, judge without consequence, and demean without care. Wounds and stereotypes are used to create wedges that adversely impact our lives to create chasms that are perceived to be real and uncrossable. If we were only willing to change our perspective and focus on love first, bridges could be built and problems solved. But as flawed human beings, it’s not always easy or expedient to get past our own beliefs and egos.
Since Christian died, we have been blessed to receive love and support from an extremely diverse group of friends and family. We have been suffering, and love awakened hearts to bring comfort and healing. Tragedy stripped everything away but love. Why can’t we do this every day? Why can’t we simply see people through the eyes of God and love them as the beautiful souls He sees, not jaded by our man-made prejudices? Imagine the world we could have if we closed our eyes and opened our hearts to see and love people the way God does.
I am not through this dark night, and I am not sure when dawn will finally break. I am trying to embrace the darkness, as I see that as the only path I have to rediscover purpose and meaning in the unbearable loss of my son. What I do know is that through this tragedy and suffering, many preconceptions of life are melting away and a foundation of simply loving people from the heart continues to strengthen.
Our lives will never be the same, but love once again proved itself to be the greatest of all. I encourage you to open your heart and go talk to those in and around your life who hold different views. Don’t talk to them about your differences, but ask about their life, their dreams, and their struggles. While we will always have some differences, you’ll most likely find a person your preconceptions told you didn’t exist.
Love unconditionally to change a life, and you might just help change the world!