On the last night of our camping trip, Margaret had an upset stomach.
Long after everyone else was settled in tents, she and I made four long trips to the latrine in the dark. A narrow path was cut through weeds and wildflowers that stood 4 feet tall on either side of us. From dusk until bedtime, my brother lit the path with tiki torches, but in the middle of the night, there was nothing but darkness. I clutched a small camping lantern, the same one my father and stepmother had brought over the night of Jack's accident to join the flashlights and candles in our darkened house.
The path was as long as a football field, and the sounds of insects and frogs almost deafening in the absence of any other sound. I knew that snakes and other critters were not uncommon in the West Virginia wilderness, and I told myself, "Don't think about bears!"
I clutched Margaret's hand and raised the small plastic lantern toward the sky. Nothing. It couldn't make a dent in the darkness. Finally, I got the hang of shining it directly at our feet so that we wouldn't trip or stumble, even though everywhere else was nothing but black. We made our trips to the latrine and eventually settled into the front seats of our car for fitful sleep while a thunderstorm drenched the campsite.
I knew Margaret was in no shape to philosophize with me on the path that night, but I was struck that the surest way for us to get where we were going was to look no further than the one step in front of us. To keep looking any further than that (which I tried several more times) meant being engulfed by the dark, and possibly losing our footing.
In life, in writing, in grief, sometimes I want the big picture illuminated for me. I am a planner. I want to know where I'll be emotionally, spiritually, and career-wise a few years down the road. I want to ensure that my daughter will have a good adulthood despite the blows of a difficult childhood. I wonder, will our Thanksgiving table in 10 years somehow be rich in love and people despite our tiny family? But I can't see any of that yet, and I guess I don't really need to.
What I need is enough light for TODAY. For just the next right step. For me that comes in trusting that the darkness won't swallow me up, choosing hope again and again, being open to possibilities as they arise, and, of course, drinking lots of hot tea.
What light do you need today?