Fifty years ago this month, I find myself sobbing beside a swift-flowing river in the middle of the night. The sobs come from a sorrow so acute, it cuts the center of my stomach. I want to find my father, but I do not know where he has gone.
He died without warning, and everything I knew to be the case, ceased to be the case. I think about chasing after him, without even knowing what that means. I take another step closer to the riverbank. I mean to throw myself in the water, where I reckon I will be drowned and eaten.
Will the chase be rewarded? I look into the dark sky and try to use it to sample the darkness imagined for death. I squeeze my eyes shut. I stop and think about what I was thinking before I stopped thinking. I have a gentle change of heart, and begin to reason with the darkness.
"What if," I ask the darkness, "instead of drowning in the river, I find some way to fix this so nobody else ever has to feel the way I am feeling right now?"
Ordinarily, it doesn't do any good to discuss one's innermost experiences. There is always the suspicion you are attempting to fascinate, or impress. People have various and sundry spiritual experiences of every variety and stripe. We cannot say one is more or less valid than another. They are as they are. With your patience, this is one of my own experiences.
Grief makes the mind dance to dirge: a ballet on the knees. My legs were falling out from under me. Across the river, the darkness became like a small ball of light. This light grew gradually larger, until I saw it was emanating from a glowing person. One by one, I could see the various insects, birds, and animals step forward toward this person, and as they entered what was now a large sphere of light, they began glowing the same way. I even saw creatures come up from the river, and like a miracle, I saw them enter this light, taking on the same glow. For a moment, I thought it must be St. Francis, owing to the remarkably sudden collection of all sorts of beings, and their transformation as they entered the sphere.
Not long after, I left home in response to that vision, seeking someone in particular. I was searching through the streets of a faraway city, and saw the above image through a window. It was a picture of the person beside the river! Later that same afternoon, and through the medium of this image, I met the unmistaken one I set out to find. The living chase is rewarded in ways the death chase cannot find.
If you ever find yourself reasoning with darkness along this river of sorrow that flows through our lives, imagine all of the tears ever been cried for the reason you're crying now, and then live for the tears still to come. Shine through those tears; heal it all, with a simple thought of others who have suffered, or who will suffer, as you are suffering now.
Sometimes, all it takes is just one reminder.