There are moments when eternity stretches out before you, and you see it with almost perfect clarity. Yet sometimes that vast expanse is not a land of grapes and honey, but a vast morass of nothingness. A chasm from which nothing escapes. Not light. Certainly not hope. It is the moment when you face every fear and every sorrow you hold sheltered and buried in your heart. It is a moment of utter and complete helplessness. That single moment fills and consumes you, and it leaves you flaccid, beaten, and empty. If you emerge from its unforgiving grip, you come out hollowed, vanquished, and spent. It is despair.
When was that moment for me? Was it when I saw my wife unconscious on a hospital floor? Was it when the doctor informed me we'd lost a child I never knew? Was it waiting an hour, a lifetime, in a sanitized and merciless hospital waiting room? Is it now?
It is in all of these, and more! It is found in the unforgiving march of every day. It is the demands of a life that doesn't stop for tragedy. It is heard in the harmless word that cuts, despite itself, to the quick. It is in the jealous thoughts, and the accompanying shame. It is in the irrational belief that no one else can understand the sorrow and longing that you feel. Mostly it comes in the dark hours of the night when all is quiet, and you are left alone with vivid flashbacks of pain and anguish.
And so I am left with the choice that has faced all mankind since that fateful day when Pandora opened her box: Do I despair? I know that I will never be the same. Although, I have less patience for selfishness and shallowness now than before; I also have more empathy and understanding for the suffering of others. I see behind the eyes of those around me, the sadness that tinges all men and women. Is that an answer?
Of course it is not. But the answer is this, no one is ever truly free of the burdens life lays upon them. No one ever completely heals in life. True the cuts may heal, yet the memory remains. It is an ever-threatening abyss that wants to render you catatonic in its anguish. But the memory is a liar. The moment of pain and despair may have overwhelmed, but it did not destroy. Neither Wife nor I will ever be free of the sadness of losing that unknown child, nor of the fear and pain of almost losing her.
Yet I cannot help but think that death and suffering make the experience and appreciation of life and joy that much more acute. Whereas the despair would have me think that I alone experience such sadness, the sorrow of life is the common heritage of mankind. No man or woman lives in such isolation that they do not experience the spectrum of human life. Is it comfort to know that others have suffered as we have suffered? No. But the comfort is in knowing that they have overcome, and from worse things too. It might take us a week, or a month, or the rest of my life, but we will be okay.