Monday, December 21, 2009
The Longest Night
Part of me feels like she’s already dead. I say “already” as if I know that somehow she’s not long on this earth. She has left and come back, you know.
The Winter Solstice is today, December 21st, the astronomical occurrence where the earth is the furthest point away from the sun. It makes me think about those times in life when life gets dark and warmth and brightness seem very far off.
I guess it was me thinking about Celeste’s accident on the 15th of January 2006 after a grueling, stripping day of terror and pain at the University Hospital after Celeste was crushed in a car accident. Her accident occurred at noon. I was in the hospital with her. It was now 2 am or something, I hadn’t eaten in 14 hours and searched for food. I walked alone along impossibly long hallways, down fields—miles—of, of fluorescent lights, millenniums, through the universe. I exited through the double doors that I was sure they’d told me to go through, only to find myself locked out and in the cold, no coat, in the dark, nighttime, winter—alone. I walked outside in the dark, hot clouds of steam rising from my mouth as I clamored around packed snow mounds and found my way back. Eventually I walked across a hallway that floated above the ground, connecting one part of the hospital with the other. I felt the hallway connected this world to the next. I found a cafeteria and bought some sorry excuse for a chicken sandwich and gobbled it down, eating in pity of myself and in fear that I would miss something if I didn’t hurry back. I fear that the doctors would come, something would happen, some complication would occur, something we’d not foreseen. We’d not foreseen any of this.
I swallowed and rushed back. I knew my way back up and when I entered into the small, impersonal, partitioned hospital room, I was greeted with an empty sheets and only a dim light above her bed. The machines that had tracked her heartbeat, that recorded the signal, the proof of her life, were extinguished. Where was she? It was like she was dead. Taken. They had only taken her for more tests. I didn’t know that. All I could do was sit in the dim light of that hospital room and steep in the dark, bitter tea of wonder and worry.
When she was hit, she blacked out. More serious, though, she went away. She told me later that she saw herself dancing barefoot upon a green field set on a cliff in Ireland overlooking the sea. The wind was tossing her hair, the air was sweet and perfect. The ocean rose in waves to greet her. She was content and felt she belonged there. She looked over and saw me a few steps away further from the edge on solid ground, a calm but focused look on my face. I simply reached out my hand and beckoned her to take my hand. She had a moment of choice. She paused then grabbed my hand.
Immediately she was back, conscious, in the cold, smashed car, forehead leaning on the steering wheel, shattered glass everywhere. She became aware of an emergency worker asking her probing questions through the shattered driver-side window. “Do you feel any pain?” he asked directly. “I think my sacrum is broken,” she proffered as equally direct. “Do you mean your tailbone?” he encouraged. “No, my sacrum,” she corrected.
16 hours later she lay in a hospital bed upon a multi-fractured pelvis, her head supported by a neck brace, life-support machines pumping oxygen into her lungs which were surrounded by several broken ribs. A menacing blue-grey bruise wiped a long swath across her left temple and forehead. It was the middle of the night. I sat in a chair next to her, worry and fear rattling my soul, exhausted and destitute. Two desperate souls alone in the dark with one borrowed iPod shuffle, a single ray of light. It’s a genius contraption; designed with two ear-pieces, one for each ear, mine and hers. Two voices in the dark singing together softly at almost a whisper, Dave Mathews, “Celebrate we will, ‘cuz life is short but sweet for certain.” These destitute moments of beautiful desperateness.
And it seems that we celebrate this longest night, this Winter Solstice because the light and warmth are on their way. We greet them upon their return.
Celeste has recovered fully from her car accident. She is working seriously with some other, pre-existing health issues. And despite all of it, we have seen the return of light and warmth after long nights of pain and frustration, some of which endures, but we look over the mountains and expect the sun to return.
The following is an excerpt of something I wrote for two dear friends who held their wedding ceremony at Dead Horse Point. It comes to mind and seems to fit here. It fits because by chance, circumstances, and destiny, I’ve learned a little about relationship and the deeper meaning of marriage.
As we stand on the edge and look over to the immense gulf below, look up toward the elevated mountains, what confirms the majesty of this scene in our hearts is not merely its beauty but more specifically our own vulnerability. As we see our own insignificance against the backdrop of such immensity, we are humbled and awestruck. . .So in this vulnerability, we stand on the edge and cling to each other in that fierce heat and embrace of deep pounding love. We hold tight, not knowing any other way, like two moths beating their wings furiously at the screen door, looking for the light and warmth beyond the threshold. This is our hope and our faith. And the rain and the hail, the snow and even stones rain from the sky and bring it on because, here we are, standing on this edge, willing to take anything that this enormous, loving universe can throw at us, and by God we will stand here all day and all night, this furiously long night, with death below us and heaven above us, and we will be here when the morning light creeps over that horizon, still clutching each other tightly. We will be here on this edge. We will be here with this one heart, not just beating but pounding. We will be here, still bleeding from this long night. And we will be here, weeping with joy at the divine privilege of standing on the edge of heaven and hell and earth combined, in the majesty of these mountains, in the wonder of this wind, at the hope of heaven for we have tasted heaven in this fierce embrace.