DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL – may 2011

 Editor’s Note: Following is a page from my spiritual notebook.

Daylight increased during April. The sun still shone after 7:00 PM that day we five ladies gathered to tell the stories of our lives. We also touched on a book topic offered by our church.

In my friend Cecilia’s living room, we sat in an informal circle. My place — an ivory brocade easy chair — faced curtain-less windows onto a suburban street. Each week I watched an SUV turn into the next-door driveway and after that, a long-haired woman walked past with her large black dog.

That night our topic was, “sacramentals.” This included objects like relics and St. Christopher’s medals as well as saying “God bless you!” and using the sign of the cross.

Teacher/tutor Karen sat next to me in a darkly patterned fabric-covered wing chair. She laughed as she told of college students who seldom came to her remedial math lab during the semester but suddenly showed up this fourth quarter week. “Test time is here and they want everything, now!” She grinned and we all chuckled.

In a more sober tone, she continued. But I have one girl who came faithfully all semester. Tami wanted to learn. Today, as I sat at my computer station, she showed up all hyper and tense. With prayerfully folded hands, she beseeched help from me. ‘Only you can make sense out of my mathematical problem sets!’

‘Tami, you’re doing fine.’ I said.

But Tami went on, ‘I failed that test once! I HAVE TO get a good grade in this class!’”

Karen paused, leaned forward in her chair and gathered us in her gaze. She continued. “I assured Tami that she was prepared and would do well. She stood in front of me, her face a mask of confusion and disbelief.

‘But what if…’ she stuttered.

‘No what if,’ I said. I stood up, hugged her and made the sign of the cross on her forehead with a slightly over-the-top ceremonial flourish.

Tami exhaled and beamed confidence. ‘Thanks!’

I shooed her off to the testing sector.”

As Karen told of another student, my eyes turned to the living room’s front windows. It wasn’t the returning SUV or even the dog-walker that drew my attention. Like a magnet, some force pulled my awareness to the small empty green park across the street. The light… the grassy empty place…

When the force dropped me back into Cecilia’s living room, Karen was saying, “…dark night of the soul.”

Uh!” Her words struck like a meteor falling from outer space.

Cecilia and the other woman facing me on the couch turned their eyes to me in question. When I said nothing, my hostess created words for me, “Frances isn’t sure what that means.”

Karen glanced over at me and grinned. “Oh, Frances, you know about the dark night of the soul!”

Recovering from the surprise of being “struck” I mumbled, “Oh, yes…” I read a book called Dark Night of the Soul by Gerald May. It was about depression. I completely forgot it can be “spiritual.”

Like a butterfly flitting from flower to flower talk moved from sacramentals to Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs — how basic survival comes before spiritual matters — and on to phone calls from family.

Now’s not the time to share what happened. I need to consider ‘the dark night of the soul’.

After goodbyes, I crossed the road to my car parked beside the now dark grassy park. What was it about this quiet space?

Headlights illuminated my path as I drove to the main road. I opened my window a crack and thought about the words that had struck me. I don’t know about the little park, but I know about my own “dark night”…

In a way, I am like Karen’s anxious student who once failed. During my late thirties, I mismanaged my depression and nearly died. This winter I have been fighting it again.

When daylight waned in November last year, a kind of inner darkness set in. Right away I began my first line of defense. Advent rituals, going to church and writing Christmas cards usually help holiday sadness!

As January days added minutes of light, my gray feeling did not fade. What’s wrong with me? Nothing I can think of… but talking out one’s feelings can help. Pointedly, I wrote e-mail and talked to girlfriends.

When February arrived, the groundhog looked up from his burrow, but I still slid toward a dark hole. I have to head off t-r-o-u-b-l-e. I’ll exercise, too!! I was doing “core strengthening” three times week. Now I cycled and pressed weights every day. As days wore on I told myself, I’m better.

But, in March, I cried while sitting with my spiritual advisor. In her gentle voice, the small white-haired woman asked, “Have you seen your doctor recently?”

I’m not better! Sister sees it, too! It’s not my imagination.

Later that day, I called my doctor and requested a higher estrogen dose. Doc said to call if I had problems with the lower dose. Darn! Why didn’t I think of this sooner?

Years ago, like Cinderella’s fairy godmother waving her wand, an estrogen supplement had shone light into “darkening” days of early menopause. I can’t wait for the hormone to help. I’ll have to add something else– sunshine!

Every day, I exposed at least my forearms to sunlight. Arms out for good measure, I daily walked the half-mile to the gym.

All this effort will surely bring change and — hopefully — banish my inner angst. Meanwhile, I con-centrate on Karen’s words that struck me.

Gerald May’s book said that darkness always brings a gift. Maybe it’s something about the little green park. Hmm.

More to ponder.

 Frances Fritzie

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