Darkness

The darkness was complete. So dark that my mind was inventing light; the little flashes of color here and there. You can see them when you close your eyes and apply light pressure to they eyes. I should be sleeping but there was little chance of that. I was frightened and uncomfortable, in an unfamiliar place. And there were people out there who wanted to kill me. In spite of the darkness, the world was alive with noise. Small things skittered across the detritus of decaying leaves, there were reptiles that made sounds that sounded like rude vulgarities, and larger things moved in predatory stealth as they sought out a meal. Insects and leeches, blood suckers, were everywhere but were, for the most part, leaving me alone. But the most noticeable thing was the fear. It was pervasive and encompassing. It traveled through the body like signals from unhappy nerve endings, a light kind of electrical shock that wouldn’t stop.

This was the part of the long patrols I hated. The other four men in my squad had taken up positions nearby. Each of us had found a bush that permitted a hollow where we could hide ourselves. Of course, snakes and spiders also found these places attractive and became just one of the discomforts one had to get used to. That’s just how it was, how it worked. I thought about the other guys and knew that they were thinking many of the same things I was. How could they not? Like me, they were telling themselves that this is what we signed up for, a contradiction in terms though. We didn’t really sign up for this. We signed up for the army and then the rest was more or less the luck of the draw, although no one was playing with cards. If we were it would be a stacked deck anyway. Welcome to Vietnam.

There were stars overhead but I couldn’t see them. If I could see stars then Charlie, our enemy, could see us in the dim light they cast. So here I was, stuffed in a bush with god only knows what wondering what I tasted like. Hiding from Victor Charlie and wishing that sleep would come, or better yet, the sun. My ears strained to hear my surroundings. I tried to listen for the metered vibrations of footfalls, the sigh of cloth in motion, the sound of a breath. My nose, already filled with the musty odors of earth and jungle and decay was straining too. It reached out for the smell of human perspiration and the odoriferous traces of different foods on exhale. I couldn’t see anything but still my other senses reached out, hyper-extended, searching. Fear will do that to you. It’s simply a matter of choosing to survive. To come out the other side of a task intact.

Just like the false flashed of light, the nose and ears would invent things too. Things that made me startle and to myself think what was that? But the worst of it were the thoughts that accompanied fear. They were the darkest and most frightening of all. Why is it that we think the worst in the absence of information? Everyone does it. The things our imaginations can show us as possible alternatives are awful and in seemingly endless supply. Out here in the night the thoughts grew and choked everything up like kudzu.

I felt it through the ground first. Then I heard the whisper of parting branches and the sound of careful steps. Close. Impossibly close. Slow but metered, careful steps one after another. I silently reach to my side and gripped my weapon, my fingers feeling for orientation. The pistol grip, the trigger guard, the position of the safety, the position of the selector switch. I already knew it was locked and loaded, ready to fire. The brush around me moved as something –someone moved slowly past. I listened carefully for the footfalls, knowing that it was a person. An animal would have smelled me long before it got this close, and it would come right at me, not be passing so slowly by my position. I could heard rushing blood in my ears and felt the pounding of my heart. It was all so loud and obvious I wondered why the intruder couldn’t hear it. Was he deaf? Stupid? My legs wanted to shake and I had to concentrate to keep them from doing it. The motion would give me away. My hands shook and those I couldn’t stop snd so I gripped my weapon with one hand and clutched the other into a fist. And then I just waited.

Time slowed down. I think maybe it stopped. I sat still, breathing gently to stay soundless for what amounted to an eternity. My senses reaching and straining, my mind envisioning all kinds of mayhem. I could almost see the bright stars of muzzle flashes, smell the cordite of expended ammunition, hear the screams that followed the wet thump of a bullet striking flesh and wrecking havoc. I could smell the coppery odor of misted and flowing blood as life drained away in rivulets of red. The fear pressed on my bladder, threatening to soak me in the warm wetness of my own urine. But still I remained motionless and waited. Waited for hell to explode into being so sudden and deadly.

I felt old. A thousand years had passed. But I also felt a difference in the air. A difference in state. I carefully rolled from beneath the bush and above me appeared the stars. The wonderful, beautiful stars. I paused to look at them, to stare as though my eyes could reach out and embrace them. Then at once I remembered where I was. I carefully looked around, straining to see any straight or curved shapes and lines. Looking for anything that wasn’t leaves or vines. Anything human. I tried hard to pierce the darkness to find a threat and, satisfactorily, failed. I realized I’d been holding my breath and I let it out. Not in a rush, but slowly and quietly. A breath in. A breath out. Then I quietly rolled back beneath the brush again.

I know hours passed. It was almost sudden when I realized that I could make out the leaves and branches that were my cover. A world of charcoal darkness that was slowly developing definition. I knew I must have fallen asleep, but when, for how long I didn’t know. Again I rolled from under the bush, but only after straining again ti listen and smell. To absorb any vibration from the ground. Out of the brush, the world was slowly developing color. It looked like a faded photograph. I clicked my tongue quietly and around me other bushes gently shook. Reunited, my team and I set back off to continue our patrol.

Here in the dark

It’s two forty eight in the morning and Captain Kirk and his landing party are getting ready to attack Spock’s brother who has assembled a rag tag army and taken over the capitol city of the dusty desert planet. The capitol consisted of a single building, a baked mud bar and hotel for travelers who really, really, really got on the wrong flight. I yawned and watched the program with the sound off. I knew what they were saying. I’ve seen the television series episodes and motion pictures multiple times, enough that I could watch with the sound down and kinow exactly who was saying what.

In spite of the movie playing away soundlessly, my room was still dark and appeared to have a brooding quality to it. I decided to anthropomorphize the wall and allow it to discuss any issues openly and safely, with an understandig that the information it gave would not be used later to prosecute most likely. I wondered if my perspective was influenced by the doses of varying bedtime medications. Some of them have cautions about heavy machinery and alcohol use, but one of them recommends laying down on taking it and having yourself restrained for safety due to somnambulation. Apparently people have awakened to find themseves fully dressed and driving somewhere down a freeway while this sleep tonic quietly worked its medical magic. Their eyes and ears were reporting a different set of perceptions, using reality, in part, to reinforce the dream. At least until they woke up disoriented and confused about how they got where they were.

“Hrmf.” I said. “So how do I know that I am not sleep walking and in a virtual world that only mimics reality? Can I be sure that label warning isn’t just something I cooked up in a dream state? After all, I have consumed this drug. That, I deduced, gave me a 50-50 chance not to be dreaming and thus reinforced, I decided to believe my eyes, although I would be keeping my eye on my eyes. The wee hours of the morning cause me many random thoughts as I wait for sleep to overtake me. I check off the final two documents required for the VA home repair grant and sigh that the 17 month process has finally been achieved and now all I have to do is wait for the contractors to show up. I look at the clock and it’s now three twenty am. The television gone dark as its sleep timer counted down nothing.

It’s not all about numbers for me

Although I often fixate on numbers, trends, statistics; a big part of who I am is my faith and belief in the unseen. This is probably why I am filled with so much hope that through all this treatment and prayer I live with confidence that I will receive a positive outcome and so will the others on this journey with Multiple Myeloma.
A couple of months ago I mustered up some strength to share my life journey at the Ann Arbor Vineyard Church (FF to 22min mark). While preparing for the talk it became very obvious that the last 6 years of my life (Cassie’s too) has been filled with a lot of loss, pain and what I would sum up as darkness.
But it hasn’t felt like extreme darkness, although a quick recount of all the unfortunate and outright horrible experiences would deem otherwise. Today I stumbled across a verse that made me realize why I haven’t been consumed by the lurking and frequently consuming darkness in my life.
You are my lamp, O LORD; the LORD turns my darkness into light. -2Samuel 22:29
In my struggle to understand life, marriage, work, kids and now cancer; God has taken the darkness that has often times surrounded me and transformed it into a light that has shined onto my path to bring direction, clarity and ultimately comfort in knowing that He is there to shepherd me so that I don’t have to go at this life alone. The greatest part…is that regardless of what happens…I know how the story ends.
Dominate Life.
-Phil