I remember this moment as if it happened yesterday.
It was November 9th, 2012. We had just left the hospital and we were faced with the mounting reality things were not going well for our son. Sensing things were deeper and more perilous than we knew, I asked our cardiologist that day at what point Mitchell’s condition was beyond his experience. He paused, thought a moment, and then said he was on the very edge. We asked that his case be handed over to the transplant team for consideration – and we were scheduled to meet with them two weeks later. Knowing my son’s diagnosis would was almost a non-starter we gave it our best shot anyway; we had high hopes, but low expectations. Mitchell was denied.
As we drove home that evening the sun’s warmth flickered like a candle against the cold November wind. Any glimmer of hope or a way out seemed to set with the sun. Everything was getting darker and I sensed we would soon face some cold realities regarding our son. As we left the parking lot I remember looking to my wife who had a look of controlled panic and deep concern. This was the day we first walked on Jupiter. Everything seemed heavier … the sky was strange, the air was thin … everything was alien. By the time we arrived home the sun hid its glimmer behind the hills and the sky seemed especially dark – as did the sorrow in our hearts.
We prayed a lot that night and every night thereafter. We earnestly sought a way out. Hardship and darkness came to us despite our heavenward pleas. As Mitchell’s health deteriorated the days grew darker still until the night my beautiful boy passed away - when nightfall had truly come and everything was darkest. I will post that essay “Nightfall” another time.
Perhaps the more tempting and punishing aspect of grief is looking back and entertaining the endless, taunting list of “what ifs?” That unreasonable list of things you could have done or should have done … where everything seems obvious under the light of hindsight. But that list of “what if” is counterfeit.
I have a colleague with whom I work who often makes reference to Einstein’s “circumference of darkness.” Einstein puts the case boldly that as our knowledge expands, so does the circumference of darkness that surrounds it. What’s more, my colleague wisely points out, when exploring new territory “we don’t know what we don’t know.” Such was the case for my wife and me as we stumbled and fumbled and did our very best to love and care for our son.
Even still, I look at photos of my son last year at this time and it feels like yesterday … yet at the same time a world away. I want to jump into those photos, back in time, and hold my son like I never have and look him in the eye and tell him how much I love him. I would have drunk the moments in more deeply and I wouldn't have wasted a second. That is what I tell myself. Yet today, being human, I still waste my seconds and opportunities pass me by. But I try. God knows how much I try. And that list of “what ifs”, however counterfeit and scattered with lies, remains glossy and deceptively wise.
But I know better. We were true. We did the best we could and all we knew to do.
At some point during my struggle of the soul, when everything seemed darkest, I felt a spark of light … a flash of insight that came rushing to my mind. It occurred to me that God almost never delivers us from our sorrows, but He will deliver us through them and we will be all the better because of it. I began to wonder how often, because suffering doesn't always ease, we confuse God for not listening to our prayers when in reality we’re the ones not listening to Him. Neither do we look. Sometimes it is dark only because we close our eyes.
Finding light in dark places; it is easy to say from the sidelines and sometimes it’s bewildering to do. But I have learned in darkness that God is there beside us, it's true. And on that day I journey to that place beyond the hills, that place my son lives, that place I now long to be – I will see with new eyes there was always light … only light I could not see.