Since you don’t know

Jeff and I casting shadows in Manteo, Roanoke Island, North Carolina, September 2013

“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.


  1. Ann

    “A shadow only happens when there is light shining from somewhere.” Beautiful and profound…

    • Thank you, Ann. That thought, of course, is not original with me, but I don’t remember where I first heard it. But it’s one worth remembering during the hard times.

  2. “. . . who’s next?” From the movie, “Coming to America”

    • Okay, whatever. Or maybe I should say “whatsoever.”

  3. I wish I could arrive today and bring a smile and a hug. You’re right, none of us will escape the inevitable. I know It’s the inevitable that gives meaning to each day and I never want to take it for granted. Seems I feel that more strongly now than ever. Is it an age thing? Partly, and also too, reading your truth. I feel blessed to know so much love until that time arrives. It’s more than so many have in their lives. I love your photo today hon. xo k

    • Thank you, K. I do think it’s an age thing, and a good one at that. Age frees us from so many things we think we must worry about when we are younger, but it also brings inevitable losses as increasing numbers of our friends and loved ones, and even places and things we treasured, are taken from us in one way or another. But most of us also have a renewed sense of how blessed we have been, as you say here.

  4. I’m sure, at the moment, you really don’t need any more character-strengthening, so I will wish you ‘hope’ instead… and some peace.

    • Thank you. I can always use character-strengthening but you’re right, hope and peace are more immediately necessary to me now. I’m hanging onto both however I can!

  5. Beautiful and achingly true, Julia. Sending a warm embrace across the miles.

    • Thank you, Alys! Looking forward to a real “non-virtual” hug soon!

  6. *hugs* My dear friend.

    • Thank you Jena ❤ ❤ ❤

  7. MaryAnn Clontz

    You & your camera capture such stunning views! I love this shadow of you & Jeff! Most of us would not have thought to shoot it. It is pleasing, soothing & beautiful!
    While praying in my “war room”, I decided to search my Bible & look over the “lists”, again. The one you cite is poignant: “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”
    I love you & pray everyday for you & “my” Denton family.

    • Thank you, Mary Ann. I smiled when I read this comment because I wondered whether there was anything of which I had NOT thought to shoot a photo, at least once in my life! We need and appreciate your prayers. Right now, I am surviving on them more than ever. ❤

  8. I like that idea that shadows only happen when there is light shining from somewhere.

    • Yes, I do too. It’s not original with me, but it makes a lot of sense to me on both a literal and figurative level.

  9. Very wise words. There is definitely light shining.

    • Thank you, Timi. I believe some of that light is coming from your direction! 🙂

  10. Good morning, Julia!
    I was just thinking how if you have a light in a room, like a candle or flashlight, the largest shadows are cast by the things closest to the light. The shadow can be even larger than the item that is casting the shadow. So maybe when the shadows seem really enormous, know that the light is not far away …?
    Hmm. Another thought – the light “sees” the item, not the shadows, because the shadows are behind the item. So if we carry light within us, the shadows “go away” (or at least are hidden). When get get a lot of lights together, they sort of cancel out each others’ shadows.
    Ok, enough “physics is phun!”
    Sending you light and love!

    • Hey Susan, I never thought about it that way before. No wonder Jeff cast such an enormous shadow. Maybe what I am trying to do here online is get a lot of lights together cancelling out each other’s shadows? Physics IS phun! And Ophten prophound!

  11. Great last line, Julia!

    • Thank you, Alan. I keep reminding myself of it. Light creates rainbows but also shadows.

  12. Sheila

    Julia, I love the photo and wonder if you knew at the time how very special and thought provoking it would eventually be. I am thinking of you more than ever, hoping that these days find you with renewed strength. Although, we can’t describe how meaningful and beautiful Jeff’s service on Friday was, we want to keep the memories with us always. There was so much heartfelt love in the occasion. ❤️ We came back to Garden City on Saturday, just because of the predicted storms and the uncertainty of when and where. We’re having really cold weather but know Spring will be here ….AGAIN! Love crosses the miles, my friend. 🌺🌷💖🙏 Sheila

    • Sheila, unless my memory is deceiving me (as research tells us memory often does) I do think that when I took that photo, I was thinking of Jeff’s grim prognosis and how there was a shadow over us and all that we did…not necessarily in a scary or doom-filled sense, but in a sobering one. I am so, so grateful that you and Bill were there with us throughout the ceremonies on Friday. I was pulled in so many directions that I feel as if I missed much (as I had to follow the lead of so many others showing me where to stand, sit, etc.) but soon we shall have the video and photos to review…I’m not in a hurry to see them, not because I dread it, so much as feeling as if I haven’t processed all that I’ve already seen and experienced. It will take time, I know, and time is what I am granting myself. Until we have spring here in earnest, we’ll keep warm over tea and conversation! Love and thanks!!

  13. Harry Sims

    Of course I don’t know your pain and anguish but I do know mine.
    I know my “soul sickness”.

    God is kind of like the growth hormone.
    When we are under its influence we grow.
    When we are under His influence we grow.

    It’s often been said and I have often said I was sure that if I kept drinking and acting like I did I would certainly be dead.

    Today I celebrate my 85th birthday and I am happy, joyous and free.

    I have been under God’s sway for 30+ years now and I am happy, joyous and free.

    I’m Harry, grateful alcoholic and devoted twelve stepper.

    • Happy Birthday, Harry! A day late, but perhaps better late than never. Congratulations on 30+ years of being free from addiction– and here’s to continued growth for all of us!

  14. Susan

    What a beautiful, painful but true writing. Seeing the nature of difficulties written and explained this way is somehow both encouraging and comforting. God is with us through it.

    • Thank you, Susan. Understanding the complexity of it somehow helps it to feel less senseless and cruel. I have often felt alone but when I crawl out of the cave into the daylight I can see that God was with me all along, I just couldn’t see in the darkness. That doesn’t mean I don’t crawl back into the cave, but I do so with the memory of having caught a glimpse of the light.

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