The day we must receive the other gift of love.
My son, born six weeks early, so tiny, still and purple I could barely breathe, as if I too were being born and striving for my first uncertain inspiration, arrived bearing such a box. He handed it to me for safe keeping as the nurse placed his little body in my hands and I received him into my astonished heart, blood and angels singing in my ears. My daughter, too, with face averted from the painful passage, so determined to remain inside the safe and cozy place we had to cut her out against her will, gave me another box.
These are just two of many that remain there on the shelf.
So small they seem at first, these boxes full of darkness. Once opened, though, they deepen to a bottomless abyss in which we fall headlong. When love turns into loss or pain or suffering that we cannot relieve. When light blinks out or slowly fades, and all we see is darkness.
There we stay until we find our way again. However long it takes. Emerging from a chrysalis of sorrow, transformed into something else completely, we finally understand the second gift of love: We can feel the pain of others, even strangers, who have loved and lost or languished in the night, which never could have happened had we never felt the emptiness ourselves.
We link our hands and hearts, and wrap with care and kindness other boxes full of darkness. And exchange them with each other. These promises of pain to come, so priceless for the presence and purpose they afford us in the here and now. Who could complain?
Throw open wide the door to this repository, and stock the shelves with joy.
We will, of course, lose all whom we hold dear, whether it is we who must let go or they, I fear we cannot bond without one day being broken. And, oh, the token of our love, exchanged, is this small box of darkness either we or they must open.
Yet darkness is essential if you want to see the stars. And eyes attuned to night can see much more than ours when we are willing only to receive the light.
If what you want is to be part of this amazing world, to find your place within the family of things, you must accept these boxes full of darkness. Each one is, as Mary Oliver says in "The Uses of Sorrow" (Thirst, 2006), a gift. You know it when you look into the eyes of someone else who has descended into that abyss, and flails about for solid ground. You know the way. You can hold out your hand. They’ll only trust you if your hand is warm, the love that gave the gift still living on in you, still reaching out to form another link in this great chain of being, binding past to future, passing as it must through this most precious, present moment . . .
The eternal now.
The only time you ever breathe or weep or discover your connection with the life you share with mine on this, our lonely island in the deep black box of space and time.
—Jay E. Valusek
(In memory of Isabelle, our beloved blue-eyed cat)