One day when we were not expecting it, the man in black appeared on the horizon. We all stared at him, appalled – a portent of doom. He was far enough away that we couldn’t really make out his features… except for the glinting black eyes. Is he moving towards us or are we moving toward him? I would willingly eyeball that threatening gaze and stare him down, however he isn’t looking at me, but at my son.
The funny thing is, that man is on everyone’s horizon. He usually remains hidden, sometimes showing himself just before his trap is sprung, sometimes coming up from behind and devouring a life in an instant. He stalks battlefields and hospitals: his breath is feared. I know Someone stronger than he, who waits beyond, light to his darkness. When my time comes I will pass right through the shadow into Another’s arms, so there can be no dread of his cold embrace. Death has lost its sting.
But this is my son facing his own end. He is the one who must find the courage to keep walking, head held high, or seek some way round, or somehow squeeze past and delay the moment – as we all try to do. All I can do is walk alongside him, keeping watch, giving help and encouragement, a companion on the journey, however short or long the road may be. Its a sad and painful calling: as parents we look back down his road to the very beginning when he burst into the world on a May afternoon nearly 23 years ago. He was a laughing baby, a determined toddler, a grinning infant – always dissembling, always stubborn, always loveable. Years passed and hurts came, the personality thrusting through disappointments and setbacks, a character strengthened as well as scarred, lessons learned, friends made. But this latest hurt is incurable.
So the light of memories streams on our road like the descending sun, casting our long shadows at our feet. We walk in shade yet see the glory too, grateful for so many happy times past. The man in black cannot be ignored, but his presence somehow brings out life’s colours more vibrantly. Suddenly the language of the heart is top priority, love is spoken out loud and care expressed boldly where reticence kept us quiet before. We find our little family surrounded by a brotherhood far bigger than we knew, lifted and carried by many arms and many prayers, the wonderful comfort of fellowship in pain. In our newly constricted reality everything somehow falls into its right place and true meaning is found in the simple things. The need for peace and inner healing dominate and life is lived just one day at a time. Bright shades of nature’s beauty, sunlight, a friend on the phone, a bouquet delivered, a meal cooked, a message sent – all shine out with new radiance, bringing tears and unexpected joy. Close companions are closer, walking near us on the road we could not walk alone.
To look to the light that breaks out from behind this dark cloud brings deep gratitude, even joy, in the face of sadness. The contrast is stark, the pleasure more poignant because of our suffering. It is ‘joy unspeakable and full of glory’… And would we have known it if this had not happened? Would we have grasped how loved we are and how much we love? Would we have seen the heart of the matter and the meaning of life with such clarity?
Some days – and especially nights – its true, the sun is veiled and tears are our food. Many mornings there is weariness and pain as I rise to face another day, set my face to walk the path before me. But for love’s sake I will walk it, right to the end, whenever that may come. I know that to have seen the man ahead is a priviledge, an opportunity to focus on what matters most. Because faith, hope and love last forever, but the greatest of these is love.
This piece was originally posted on the Stories from the Street website on 21st February 2010.