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Robin Amos Kahn Headshot

Dark Nights

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I didn't see my "dark night" coming. Does anyone? I had been thinking of talking to my husband. Maybe we could find a way to be less miserable, more alive, more ourselves. I imagined he might say, "Honey, let's try a bit harder to save the marriage." Instead, he said, "Okay, let's separate. Let's get divorced. I'm all for it." A door slammed.

And then my 21-year-old daughter said, "Well, if you two are splitting, then I'm moving to California to live with my friend." And who could blame her?

And suddenly, my mother, indestructible, having survived two hospice stays, countless emergency rooms and near death experiences -- to the astonishment of every medical professional who ever crossed her path -- died of bone cancer.

And because things come in threes -- or fours in my case -- my home was taken away from me. My husband was planning to live in Spain. I couldn't afford to remain in our place. Where to go? I was unemployed, like millions of Americans. Try finding an apartment in New York City with no job, two dogs and no fortune.

Grief overcame me like a dark cloud. I felt so much sadness that I thought I'd drown. I cried in Central Park. At the movies. Making coffee. Quietly on the subway, where no one seemed to notice. I lost my family. I lost my mother. I lost my home. I lost my sense of myself as a wife, a mother, a daughter, a worker. I was lost. That was the worst part. I had no safe harbor, and fear cut me open -- all sense of identity, peace or confidence drained away. I didn't know if I could handle this. I didn't want to.

And yet, there was life too. Each time I released the tears, I felt seeds of relief and some small kind of aliveness, knowing somehow that this was all perfect. That I wasn't experiencing only a dark night, but a path out of the sadness and into something new that I couldn't yet identify.

It wasn't about hope. It wasn't about falling in love with someone who would save me. It wasn't about really wanting to die -- it was about figuring out how to trust. How to move through the grief, one small step at a time. And sometimes backwards. It was about giving myself permission, after so many years of running and racing, to sit with the pain. As the Buddhists teach, we mut sit with all the feelings and welcome them, no matter what shows up. Sometimes it felt that all that was showing up was tears, but then there would be laughter, and then there would be a connection to a friend, or a moment of feeling alive.

Fast forward three years. I share a loft with a dear friend. Recently, my daughter -- who has just moved back to New York City after three years of living in California -- came over to watch a movie with me. And my loft mate's son was over too, first studying and then watching a football game. I was overwhelmed with a feeling of happiness for just these simplest of pleasures. People I care about, who care about me. Our children. A beautiful night. Friends. Being in the moment. Trusting that life has a way of working itself out when we stop controlling it. Letting whatever feelings show up move through us. I do all of this imperfectly. I still deal with anxiety about the future, about money, about the world, the wars, illness, horrible events that happen every moment. How can we change these events? I don't have the answers. But I do feel that when we have a period of darkness, the light that follows is brighter and more beautiful than anything we have ever known. And we can share that light. Think of all the people who have experienced dark nights and have gone on to literally create the most beautiful changes in the world.