the abyss: in memory of sean
“God created the sky and the earth. At first, the earth was completely empty. There was nothing on the earth. Darkness covered the ocean and God’s spirit moved over the water. Then God said, “Let there be light!” And, light began to shine.
Genesis 1:1-3 ERV
My Dearest, Sweetest Girl,
You decided that you would try your hand at drawing some trees. You came in from school with your brain obliterated and empty. You were a tomb of tedium crammed with hoards of polynomials, and the Achaeans, and phases of the eukaryotic cell cycle, and the Siege of Sardis, and Spanish greetings. You had a day of it. Now, the hoards and hoards of intellect swelled, pressing against all walls, and threatened to implode. You were walking with your insides out, remaining silent and seething, just like a sizzling fuse. You stood from the desk, mentally swept your arm across it sending the graph paper, the mechanical pencils, highlighters and pastel index cards dotted with Spanish phrases thudding to the floor. Though it was only imagined, it was as good as real, and I could hear your awful day clearing the way for the real Nadia to come forward and create: “I’m going to draw some trees,” you said.
I hope you will remember the moment when your eyes caught mine and without a single word you slowly and clearly added, “I’ve had enough. Look away if you must. But, Mom… don’t say anything.”
I wish you knew how much I got that. I mean really and truly—girrrlll for reals—I got that. I even admired you. How could I not? Haven’t I, once upon a time or two, been caught up in that swirling tornado blowing in from Oz, spiraling down a black hole that threatened to swallow me whole? Oh, Grasshopper, you’ve surpassed the master as you stood there with your charcoals in your right hand and that perfect sheet of white, rippled, watercolor paper in your left, knowing that the only way to dispel the tempestuous darkness was to create a door that welcomes in a Technicolor screen bursting with light.
Today marks the birthday of my nephew Sean—another one gone too soon. When you get the news that someone you love is no longer, exact dates and times and specifics fade. But you remember what you were doing. I was at Grandma and Papa’s house. It was the day before Thanksgiving and I thought Mia was calling to gloat about her collard greens and her dressing and her gravy that I’d be missing. I remember I answered the phone smiling. I hung up sick and sobbing. It was the worst Thanksgiving ever, and I’ve had fantastically, almost comically horrific Thanksgivings. But Sean had hung himself. What could eclipse that?
You remind me of him. Sean was handsome as you are beautiful, and quick with the wit. Like you, sarcasm was his brand of funny. Like you, he was artistic. Like you, try as I might, he rarely offered me his true feelings. Like you, when he did offer them, I found that he had lots and lots of feelings. And, like you, his days vacillated from being filled with joy to utter chaos. He knew, as do you, how to brew black moods. Did you know that in the beginning, the whole of the earth was nothing more than a black mood?
“Now the earth was chaos and waste, a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness—darkness was on the surface of the deep. God’s Spirit brooded hovering above the water. God spoke: “Let there be light!” and there was.... ”
My girl, you are like your enigmatic cousin Sean in so many ways. I wish I could pretend not to see it. But I don’t want sugarcoat this or play games. You can get really, scarily dark. It's okay. For the most part you know how to make your way back to light. But, should you ever feel that you can't make it my sweet, tell me. Give it to me straight. Don't leave me wondering. Don’t choose me to bury you.
When your moods swing into the abyss and try to bury you beneath the bottom of the deep, beneath the inky blackness, you have a choice. You can either let the darkness come for you, or, in the wise words of Radiohead, gather up the lost and sold. Gather up the pitiful—what seems impossible in your arms—give up the ghost…
The entire earth was a swirling, blackening scowl, and God covered the chaos, the darkness, the gulping emptiness. He gave up The Ghost in a heavenly exhale that spoke, “Let there be light!” And do you see? God created in chaos. He almost exclusively creates in chaos: The light came forth from the darkness and the baby came forth from the womb and the Savior stepped forth from the tomb—light bursting from darkness. Being from nothingness. Life rising from death.
And you being made in His image can do the same thing with chaos. You can do the same thing with charcoal and watercolor paper. You can brood over the darkness and beckon the light, “Come!”