Since you don’t know
“So don’t be frightened, dear friend, if a sadness confronts you larger than any you have ever known, casting its shadow over all you do. You must think that something is happening within you…Why would you want to exclude from your life any uneasiness, any pain, any depression, since you don’t know what work they are accomplishing within you?” ― Rainer Maria Rilke
Each of us, sooner or later, must endure losses so enormous that they cast shadows over our lives, leaving us forever changed. After such losses we see things differently, as past events, present circumstances and all thoughts of the future are filtered through sharpened understanding and sensitivity. We are confronted with bewildering incongruity; we must be strong when we feel more fragile than we ever have, and we feel a constant, pervasive numbness that nonetheless is shot through with debilitating pain. And Rilke dares to ask why we would want to exclude such ordeals from our lives?
But of course he’s right. Not that we have a choice, in any case. Yet we have seen the pattern played out, time and again, in the lives of people who made history, as well as those we know personally: “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” This is the sort of process that’s far easier and more comfortable to watch from a distance, as it plays out in someone else’s life, but very few of us will have that luxury indefinitely.
So I’ll try to take Rilke’s advice to heart, and not be frightened by the shadows. I’ll keep reminding myself that a shadow only happens when there is light shining from somewhere.