I usually write best when I have nothing in particular to right about. It's easy to churn out a blog post about "5 toilet paper tube crafts" or "2 reasons to buy less crap" (*hint* time and money). But on important occasions that deserve mention, I have too much to communicate but too little to say.
Last year I had a bit of a break down. For the past few years I've been simplifying, paring down, eliminating the physical and emotional anxieties and stressors that were just serving as distractions from what was really important. I didn't realize that if you want to pare the clutter from your life, you need to be prepared for it to be relatively raw underneath. And what I found underneath was very raw fear. For lack of a better term, I coined it "pre-traumatic stress disorder," a traumatic reaction to a war I had yet to be a part of. It started with nightmares. I woke up shivering, feverish almost, sweating under the covers but a mess of goosebumps and chattering teeth when I kicked them off. I don’t remember specifics, but I still recall vivid pictures. There was a war and Cohen, my oldest son and yet somehow the one who always will seem least capable of scrapping his way through life, was a child soldier. More nightmares followed, though all were similar in theme and content. War, life as refugees, children missing, almost always wandering or hiding, seeking shelter and safety. Some dreams were long walks to refugee camps, some were hiding behind false walls, trying to quiet a baby, trying to decide how long one can smother the face of a crying toddler to keep the rest of your children from being found. Then more heart jarring wakings, more cold sweats. I was afraid to sleep but my rational brain told me more sleep deprivation would likely totally unhinge me. Since my heart accelerated just walking into my bedroom, I would spend nights wedged between four children as they slept, trying not to wake them with my sobbing. Then sounds, thoughts, movies, news articles...they all triggered fresh waves of panic, with the pictures from nightmares projecting in my mind with the same vivid realism they took on in dreams.
I tried my best to explain it. It’s anxiety, I said, but I’ve had anxiety. This is not what I’ve had before. This is cosmic anxiety. Everything I used to worry about like car crashes and cancer and whether someone is looking at me funny in the grocery store-it doesn’t matter anymore. My little worries, they seem inconsequential. For the longest time our mealtime prayer was “give us grateful hearts oh Lord, and make us mindful of the needs of others.” It was answered. I was so intensely grateful for every moment with my children. If I were to grow old with my husband and never have to bury a child-I would never complain about anything. And yet I was acutely conscious of that being a request that seemed unreasonable for most of the rest of the world. That my life as I knew it was already the miraculous answer to someone else's prayer. When the nightmares subsided, and I realized that I, for the time being, was safe, I still intensely felt the pain of millions walking long roads for safety or shelter or water. I remembered my dad talking about the antagonism toward Soviets during the Cold War era. "What they don't understand," he said, "is a mother in Moscow loves her baby. Even though he’s Russian.” They are mothers too, and therefore I felt constantly tapped into the pain of all those who see their children starved and sliced by shrapnel and washed up on beaches. The darkness, it would seem, colors anything that touches it. All that ran through my mind was the age old “if God is good, if God is good, if God is good…” but not “if God is good why does he not stop it all,” it was “if God is good his heart must be always broken.” And the grief of God is a lonely place to be.
And that backstory brings me to January 5th, the Eve of the church's feast of Epiphany. Epiphany celebrates not the birth of Jesus, but the revelation of his birth to the Magi, the foreign kings who followed the light of His star. The Magi, Pope Francis says, "personify all those who long for God, who yearn for their home, their heavenly homeland. They reflect the image of all those who in their lives have not let their hearts become anesthetized.” Those of us who cannot sit dull and numb in darkness.
So on Epiphany Eve, I sat reading Francis, reading the church fathers and scriptures, and naturally scrolling Facebook. And someone posted this little tidbit: Shakespeare's Twelfth Night is actually referencing the twelfth day of Christmas, or Epiphany Eve. The chaos and confusion of the play, which includes missed messages, mistaken identities and those presumed dead returning to life, is all resolved at the end of that twelfth night as each character comes to an epiphany (little e) of their own. On Epiphany, the dead Sebastian is revealed to be living, Viola is revealed to be, not the page boy she had disguised herself as, but a noblewoman in love with her master, the Duke Orsino. And Orsino upon recognizing her for who she is, professes his love for her, saying: "If this be so....I will take part in this most happy wreck."
A happy wreck indeed. With all the inspirational words about Christ's light revealed, it was this turn of phrase that struck me. That accepted a dark world, but a darkness that receded in the light of revelation. If it be so. If that star sits on the horizon, I will press into the darkness. I can't fully explain how these epiphanies felt so intensely powerful and personal, in the way things do when you're sleepy and your critical brain isn't quite engaged, like when a song or poem comes all at once in the early stages between waking and sleeping. And I thought I was just in that dreamy state, but what I didn't realize at the time was that my critical brain was actually shut down by that dreamish zone that comes on in the first stage of labor. There is nothing that presses into darkness and pain in hopeful expectation like childbirth. New life borne of pain and blood and water. Three hours later, in the first hour of Epiphany morning, we welcomed Vesper Josephine Mae. Josephine means God will add. Mae is a form of Mary, the "handmaiden" of God, the bitterest sufferer and the most blessed mother.
Vesper is Latin for "star".
This is the scripture for the feast of Epiphany and the day of her birth.
Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will be seen upon you.
And nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your rising.
"The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."