“How do we learn to see in the dark? It begins with a vow of watchfulness. By standing still – we bear witness to change.” – Terry Tempest Williams in Still
Despite all the goodness given, the world had grown dark for me.
I sat knees knocking white against the paper sheet as the doctor told me what was wrong.
Slowly over the past months it seemed the spring of rejoicing had slipped away, gone once and for all. Because now I knew. Knew that even the most precious treasures were temporary, slipping out of my reach before I could know they were gone. Now I knew that for every baby born, a body will die. Every innocent child’s smile will grow into stormy confusion. For every flower bursting to life, the end comes quick and shriveled. And yes they tell me the death nourishes, makes way for the new. But what is the use in this ever spinning wheel? I chattered on, busying myself with nonsense as I grew silent. How could I speak to Him? My Father who had left me here amidst the pain. Myself a spoiled brat, with a home and family, a warm bed to rest my head on, food always to fill my stomach. My prayers were like balancing a checkbook, I could not reconcile any of it. The disease ridden mother and her starving children, my full belly and selfish heart. The wars and the weddings. Triumphs and failures. Greed and need. And over all death. So I grew silent. What do you to say to a God you can not understand, in a world where you can only find Him for a moment?
But in this moment sitting half naked and afraid, I had only Him. Him who kept my heart and the little one’s within beating. A flicker on the ultrasound screen reminding me I was not alone. A flicker and a dark spot, a spot they explained would either heal or grow worse and bring my baby’s life to an end in a flow of blood. Go home, rest, don’t worry and live life as normally as possible. Impossible words they spoke to me.
So I went home in silence and tears. Breathing out a cry for help. Please heal me. Please protect our baby. I don’t deserve Your healing. I don’t know what’s ultimately best for my story or this spinning globe, but this is what I want. More than anything I want to hold this baby safe. Please make it so. Because I know you can. Because in all the darkness I know You must reign. Because this miracle within me had to have a Father.
I went home and I held Vigil. Because if these were my last and only moments with my child I wanted to be awake. I wanted to feel and know them, however much that might hurt. And so I slept, long hours giving in to rest, because everything else could wait if only I could still hold my child. I slept with my three year old’s eyelashes brushing my cheek. And when I could not sleep and my mind raced, I read, withdrawing into my oldest friends. These books know how to keep my heart from plunging right off the edge of panic and despair.
I stood vigil – sleeping, hungrily devouring words of life and watching. I watched the light play across the floor from my place on the couch. I watched my children run through the house, hair bouncing, wondering if this wound within could take my life as well as my child’s. I watched to see if I could make them smile, to see if they were still young enough for me to reach right inside their hearts. I watched the sun set and prayed for just one more morning without an empty womb. And then I watched the blue skies and breathed the air and prayed for one more day with my child.
A favorite band sings… “Souls cannot, souls cannot be fooled”
Finally my soul was growing still. Growing still amidst all my questions born of pain. Growing still and knowing that He is God. Awakening
I thought of Jesus and His friends, the night before His death. What do you do when you’re not sure what comes next? When you have seen life and death and miracle, but you’re still trapped in time and space and don’t want to give up this tragic home? When more than the unseen you just want to be with those you hold and care for and love in flesh and blood? When you’re afraid of what lies ahead?
You stand vigil. Stand still and watch things change. You grow quiet so that the white noise of this world won’t lull your soul to sleep. You rest so that you can remain awake. You watch the sun rise and set, and rise again.
And as I sat still, as I slept and remained awake – I felt healing. I saw redemption. A baby growing healthy and my body beginning to heal. Nothing I had done, just a gift received from a Father who loves me. Who I must believe loves me just as much if the answer would have been different. But for this moment I rejoice in life taking root and begin anew to look for redemption everywhere. I read now of vigils and try to make sense of these weeks. I read of vigils of nighttime prayers. Of staying awake when most are asleep, unaware. I read how vigils are kept for holy celebrations, times of remembrance of miracles past. Traditionally these vigils do not begin in the fresh light of morning. They begin as the darkness grows close and heavenly lights go dim. The wakefulness remains through the long night, silent and waiting in the dead of midnight. Waiting, watching for the light that will come sure as day. The vigil ends with light, the morning of the feast. Reading this, I see how this world isn’t an ever spinning globe, it’s a night drawing close to dawn. Death is in our story now, but every glimpse of hope is truth peeking through, telling that the true day will come, full of life. And it is ok to not understand. All the platitudes about what is best fall silent when you stare death in the face, and often day does not seem worth the dark dark night. But I would not want a Father who knew less than me, and I know that I have not made my children or the sea or the mountains. I know they are real though and chance could not have fashioned their glory. I have seen over and over despite my best efforts, how instead of these miracles, my hands fashion failure, chaos and strife. So all I can do is quietly receive His goodness. Waiting for the light to come. Watching the seasons change. Knowing He is God.
And still I am afraid. I do not know what this journey holds for me or my children. But I know in stillness I can rest in Him. I read of a knight’s vigil. How he stayed awake, kneeling through the night. When the morning came, rising to be knighted, clothed in white for his work, with a mantle of red to show his readiness to be wounded, his acceptance of the wounds that would come. I am no knight, but I know of work and wounds and so do you. I read of vigils beside deathbeds, and remember our nighttime watch a few months ago holding my Gran’s hand as she breathed her long ragged last breaths. I remember a living room crowded with brave loved ones gathered round my friend, asleep as the brain cancer took her. I remember holding my son’s still body, trying to make the moments last and will them away. And I think of all the myriad moments I have known filled with life and joy, daily monotony and silly frustrations.
I hold a large heavy book full of abstract oceanscapes, bought at a little seaside shop a million miles from here. I bought it for my Gran whose heart was full of the sea. Her living in a prairie, content with a pool. I took it from her coffee table a few days after she left, opened it at Christmastime in my mother’s house during weeks that I just sat and watched the snow come and go, holding the secret of new life inside me. I bought the book years ago, because these photos of ocean horizons seemed a perfect birthday present for my Gran, and because their simplicity called to something deep inside of me. I had not noticed that the book was called Still. I had not read until now, how the artist, Debra Bloomfield, set her camera up each night and waited with shutter open wide for the light to come and seep onto the film. I had not read how she returned quietly to the same place again and again after losing her sister, to wait for the light to arrive, to hold vigil and make these photographs. It was not something she decided to do, this was something that in the deathly quiet she found she must do. Yet she did not see it as a vigil of grief. She spoke of finding the sunrise, the moment the light returns, finding it as a child finds the world, as a mother looks at her newborn baby. She called it a vigil of wonder.
And this is what I want to hold, from now until forever. A vigil of wonder. Not of death, sadness or fear. A quiet vigil of wonder. Where, in the waiting and the stillness, I can hear and see. A vigil is an observance. To observe with wonder His redemption this world speaks of. To watch and see, listen and hear, and know what I am to do with the time I am given here.
polaroid of my love, taken at sunset . sx70 . impossible project film