Not long ago, I fell in a state park while hiking with friends. I was elated at first that no bones appeared to be broken. Since travel has been the major constant in my life for two decades, I pictured in that first second of the fall how impossible it would be if my arms, wrists, or legs were splintered.
In the next second I heard the loud sound of my head striking a jagged rock. The next thing I would learn was about head injuries. In that split second I went from dashing through airports and countries, walking twenty miles a day on pilgrimages, to a crawl. Rest and quiet. This is all anyone can offer. Rest and quiet. Darken the room. Let us know if there are any changes.
Oh, and this healing could take a long while. That’s what they tell me.
Given the prior speed and fullness of my working life, I become a better patient than many imagined. There is very little choice. I let everything go and open myself to the meaning of profound rest. From the first moments, I sink willingly into a deep place of quiet, sensing that this time of stillness may be a great gift.
For several weeks it is too uncomfortable to even read. My breathing slows. I think about the pace I’ve been keeping and know that this season of life is over. I will never again keep such a full schedule. This knowledge has nothing to do with whether or not I’ll recover; I presume I will. It is just a knowing that I have quite literally fallen over a new threshold, and that if I open to it—if I don’t resist—it may kindly take me in and lead to a different period in the life journey.
I notice that the recuperation from this injury bears similarities to my experience of darkness during the healing of grief years ago. There is a comparable sense of being swallowed up by something great, and a feeling of being surrounded on all sides. It feels as if I’m back in the boat of myself, riding out a storm. In that former storm, and even now, there was a keen awareness, simple in its clarity, that the inner world of calm and stillness alone matters—that everything arises from there.
But I couldn’t hold onto the awareness years ago. Even though I was deeply drawn to the sense of peace and well-being that emanated from an unknown Presence, I only had glimpses. This time I trust what beckons me…even welcome it. I am the person sitting in silence in the boat in the Homer painting, disappearing into a current whose summons I recognize to have been lifelong.
Innumerable images pass through me as I wait patiently for my head to heal. It is almost a life review, but I am not reviewing content. The experience is closer to what I once heard Eugene Peterson say: “The primary thing is not that God exists, but that love is moving in everything.”
This is my love review. Many missteps are gently unmasked, especially the mind’s long, insistent search for answers. Now it’s obvious. Meaning has been there all along, clothed as life. At first the physical progress of my healing is small and incremental. It is hard to describe the jarring, which was surely a jarring to my body, but also to my soul. I often don’t speak out loud for days, just checking in briefly with my daughter by email or text.
Sometimes at night I light candles and sit on my deck in the dark or lie on top of blankets and look up at the stars. I consider how many gifts I’ve dismissed as obstacles because they didn’t seem to pertain to what I wanted. I think about what it means to unlock our deepest human capacity for love, and how generously and faithfully life offers gifts as it continues to rebalance the Universe.
I listen to retreat masters whose messages are live-streamed across the world. One evening the teaching is about light. The master looks out at his live audience, and me, thousands of miles and an ocean away. His eyes are full as he says very softly, “We are light for this world,” and I cannot stop weeping, the sound of the familiar words somehow new to my ears. In a transition, teach the Oglala Sioux, you are being renamed.
Excerpted from Stars at Night: When Darkness Unfolds as Light by Paula D’Arcy.