By Rachael Barham
Can we even see our own darkness? It shrouds us so that we walk around blinded, ignorant of the shadows we cast as we go.
A Thursday night, driving home from an evening lit by conversation and laughter over a shared meal. My husband Jeremy points out the way I have just cut off and insulted a friend, thinking only of myself. I can’t see it. I protest and defend, explain and excuse, insisting on my own unflickering light, clawing back the darkness of an accusation that threatens to snuff out for me the evening’s warm flame.
But thank God for the light of another’s eyes – faltering though it may be, though we all are. My mind’s eye cannot turn away from our friend’s turned-down gaze remembered, nor from the painful truth shining clear in Jeremy’s eyes. In the dark of the car, I finally allow myself to see the light, the light of my own darkness: that blindly insisting on my own desires over those of another has darkened my thoughts, making my actions and words ugly and small-minded. And the truth I am trying the hardest to ignore? That this darkness is not some strange anomaly or momentary lapse; it is part of me. Hesitatingly, I confess what I have fought not to see; his eyes brighten and he thanks me. The darkness does not entirely disappear but I have admitted the light of truth, and opened myself to the light of forgiveness and loving acceptance from another. I find that my shadows have not overtaken me and do not need to define me.
I have spent too much of my life trying to hide parts of myself that I consider dark, undesirable, unacceptable or unlovable. I have tried to hide from others and to hide from God. But maybe all my hiding has really been from myself. It is myself I do not want to look in the eye.
But why? Why do I even attempt to hide from these very real parts of myself?
I hide because I believe that my darkness (or what I consider darkness) must be hidden. I hide because I believe certain parts of me – too shadowy or, ironically, too brilliant – cannot be loved. And this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, for what I never reveal, never admit, can never be loved.
A Sunday morning, still dark. I wake up from a brief, simple, but horrifying, dream: my small daughter is locked in our empty apartment upstairs and she is screaming with terror. She is abandoned, unheard, isolated and utterly terrified. I feel this fear myself, immediately and viscerally, and all I want to do is rescue and protect her. But when the light of dawn breaks and I reflect more consciously on this dream, I have the sense that my daughter represents myself, or the parts of myself that I have shut away because I am afraid to let them be seen. But this precious, beautiful and inevitably flawed part of me does not want to be locked away, living in my house and yet cut off from life; she is crying and screaming out to be heard, found and embraced. And only I can do this.
So, every day, I try to unlock the doors that separate and isolate: by trying to apologize promptly and unreservedly to my beloveds when my shadows twist themselves into shapes that wound; by being brave enough to ask a friend if I’ve offended her, ready for whatever the answer may be; by making regular space for honest self-reflection and prayer; by daring to speak of the thing that I am secretly passionate about or that I feel should not be bothering me quite this much; by trying to reveal rather than veil my beauty, my gift, my strength, while not denying my weakness and my uncertainty. And though the key can feel hard to turn – the lock rusty with shame and fear – once unlocked I am surprised by the easy swing of an insubstantial door, and by the rush of light and love that always greets me, where I thought there was only a lonely and fearful darkness.
And so, choice by choice, my house – my self – is gradually becoming a seamless whole.
In me there is light and there is darkness.
And there is nothing to fear.