I’ve written so much about loss – mostly because I’m trying to harvest the meaning of the most powerful experiences in my life. Some of my losses were visceral surprises, some echoed inside and opened ancient wounds. It’s those doubly powerful losses I had in mind as I wrote an essay called “A Brutal and Sacred Gift.”
Here are the first few paragraphs:
When I was about eight I read C.S. Lewis’s Voyage of the Dawn Treader during a summer visit to my grandparents in Utah. Curled up on Grandma’s nubby old blue sofa in the basement, where the air was cool and a bit musty from the scent of the earth that pushed up against the small windows near the top of the walls, I read for hours.
I remember little of the book other than a moment when Eustace, who was a scabby and difficult kid, got turned into a dragon. After several misadventures his moment of redemption comes when Aslan the lion pierces through every layer of Eustace’s dragon-ness with his sharp claws to uncover the boy within. But Aslan isn’t done yet. He then strips away more – everything Eustace believes he needs to survive in the world. Eustace is left open and exposed. He is required to confront his delicate core, to remake himself and the way he exists in the world.
When I read that section, my eight-year-old eyes grew wide. I freaked out. I could envision nothing more awful than having every single defense stripped away and then even more defenses stripped away after that.
I kept imagining it over and over again, my heart beating fast. What would the claws feel like? How far down would they peel? What would it be like to go out into the world raw and naked and new?
I was desperate to never go through anything like that. Even at eight, I required a protective covering, armour to hide the secret darkness that had always nested inside me. Before I had language to name it, somehow I felt ineligible for love. That dark and heavy knowing fell like silt into the deepest part of my heart. I learned to carry my disqualification for a normal life, my tender, unmet needs, my lonely separateness. Carrying that loss was all I could handle – I couldn’t face anyone else knowing it was there or seeing how broken and unworthy I was. The pain of loneliness was bearable, the humiliation of it being discovered was not.
When I write, I always hope that by spelunking down into my own heart I can find a morsel of truth that might illuminate other peoples’ humanity too.
I wish you courage and fulfillment as you navigate through both the dark and the bright in your life.