I was driving home after the longest of long days…a full slate of clients followed by an evening support group. It had been a hard winter in Buffalo, and today was the fourteenth day in a row of steady snow. My driveway was a tiny ridge amid two huge snow banks, and I would get up an hour early every morning to dig out my car out then navigate backing up, all the while hoping that no other cars were out and about on my street, since I could no longer see past the enormous snow piles marking each side of my driveway.
That night, I pulled onto my street and parked temporarily on the side of the road, knowing that I would need to shovel my pathway into the driveway before I could pull in. I waded to my porch through the day’s accumulated snow, got my shovel, and started to clear the path.
My hopes for that evening were simple. I looked forward to the post shovelling comfort food dinner I had brought home: turkey and mashed potatoes with gravy and green beans. I wanted to sit on my sofa, let my cat jump up on my lap and purr, and just be still for a few blissful minutes, listening to some quiet music. Maybe I would light a candle. These simple and comforting images filled my mind and gave me strength to pitch shovels full of icy, packed snow over my head to reach the top of the snow mounds. I was nearly ready to put down my tools, pull my car in the driveway, and call it a night. I walked my shovel back to my porch, grabbed my mail and tossed it into the house, set down my bag and delivered my dinner to the kitchen to be reheated. I went back outside to pull my car into the driveway.
Then, I saw it coming. A huge snow plow. It was after 9 p.m. and my car was now illegally parked on the street. I watched helplessly as the plow swerved to avoid hitting my car and in doing so, slammed into the snow banks on the end of my driveway. It made no difference to the plow which kept right on going, but 14 days of piled, packed ice and snow had now collapsed into my driveway like an avalanche.
Something in me snapped. I ran out to the street, cursing the plow and helplessly trying to remove the snow. I was exhausted physically, mentally, and emotionally. I just started crying, in total hopelessness. I stood in my driveway first in shock, then in hopeless despair.
I cursed the snow, the snowplow, my neighbors who didn’t ever offer to help, the city, the weather, my low wages, my long hours, my failed marriage, my miscarriage, my childlessness, my lack of faith, my lack of courage, my ambiguity, my stuckness, my choices and consequences, my entire life. I felt alone and lonely, abandoned by everything. Just moments earlier I had contemplated blissful relaxation, but I was obviously miles from actual peace of mind. I had reached my low point, my frozen and hopeless dark night of the soul.
But, as they say, it gets better.
Even in the archetypal tarot image of the dark night of the soul (pictured below) there is still light. The weakened soul, the exhausted and impoverished spirit cannot see the lights shining in the holy places. But, just because we cannot feel it or see it does not mean the light isn’t there. Navigating the dark night of the soul means taking steps on the journey even when we cannot yet see the light that beckons to us. Courage is in the action of moving forward through the dark night, in hope of a new day. Faith is our willingness to allow someone…or the Universe…to hold hope for us even when we do not feel hopeful.
On that dark night, I put down my shovel. I wrote a note and stuck it on my windshield, begging the police not to tow my car and pledging to dig out and pull my car into my driveway at the first light of dawn. I heated and ate my dinner, slowly and savoring. I petted my cat and she purred. I flipped open my mail and saw the latest issue of Social Work which I flipped open and read. I saw an advertisement for a doctoral fellowship to a prestigious University for experienced professionals who wanted to study mental health services research. I made myself a promise that I would apply and if I got accepted, I would go. No ambiguity. Just small steps forward. I went to sleep and the dawn rose on a new day.
My car had a citation for $10 but was not towed. A pick up truck with a plow drove by as I started shoveling and the nice driver turned around and plowed me out of my frozen misery and waved off any fee. I sipped coffee and called and requested an admissions packet to the social work doctoral program at Washington University in St. Louis. I fed my cat, and went to work. It was a new day. And it was glorious.
The dark night of the soul is sometimes exactly what we need in order to see the light of a new path emerging.