Yes, you read that right. I am, years later, grateful for having been so deeply in the darkness that I put my leg over the railing of my 8th floor balcony one cold December night. More than once.
As I stood there, sobbing, lost in the icy hell of isolation, fragmentation and pain born of a difficult year that I thought I would never see the end of, a thought - one that felt like another's voice - went through my head: "What right do you have to take yourself out of anyone else's life? How do you know where you will be in 10 years?" A bit hard, perhaps, but exactly what was needed to end the crisis.
This entry, like several others, was shifted by current events: today, the apparent suicide of Gary Speed. My heart broke as I read the news stories, having a sense of where he must have been to take such a decision and thinking of those left behind in a shock and grief that will have its own unique shards of glass working their way through one's heart at unexpected times for the longest time.
What struck me was the pictures. So many photographers had caught the pain on his face, the sense of being lost, but no one had seen it - and why would one? He was young, talented, successful, respected, famous - he had seemed happy only the afternoon before. And we hide it so very well. No one had the remotest idea how bad I was then, or the odd time since.
So why am I grateful for having been in this place of unremitting darkness, as hostile as the Antarctic winter, with ferocious winds and no shelter in sight?
Because it changed me profoundly. Once one has been to that place, one is never the same again: either one chooses to exit the world above and enter Hades' kingdom, or one turns back from the gates and returns, blinking in the light, transformed - and like Talamir after the loss of his first Companion, Taver, never quite belonging to the world above ever again.
Some of the gifts emerge from that no longer quite belonging above - the ability to see past what is expected: I can look at pictures of supposedly happy events, pictures on which others type 'Great photo! You must be so happy!', and, if it is present, see the sadness, the pain, the anger, the sense of being trapped. It is easier to see what is real, because one knows what so often lies beneath...
...and what lies ahead: death - my own - is no longer frightening, though I'm still terrified of those I love dying. That it will come, I know, and that is absolutely fine. I don't need to resist the knowledge or the process, and that allows me to live a fuller life.
Part of living that life to the full, and one of the greatest gifts, is being able to keep company with others through their Antarctic storms - to trudge with them, to sit through the blizzard, to hold them through it - without fear, because it is a familiar landscape, a home away from home. Someone who has been there can be trusted with that, can hold the space, can be believed when they say that the storm will end, even at the time of its greatest fury.
To be there, to be trusted to sit with another in the time of their greatest darkness, is a privilege beyond words.
To be unafraid to enter the deepest pain fully and freely, without getting lost, knowing that one can make the trek and return, both for oneself and as a witness for others, is the most precious of gifts:
And a woman spoke, saying, "Tell us of Pain."
And he said:
Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.
And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;
And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields.
And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.
Much of your pain is self-chosen.
It is the bitter potion by which the physician within you heals your sick self.
Therefore trust the physician, and drink his remedy in silence and tranquillity:
For his hand, though heavy and hard, is guided by the tender hand of the Unseen,
And the cup he brings, though it burn your lips, has been fashioned of the clay which the Potter has moistened with His own sacred tears.
Being able to enter pain fully brings gifts we cannot even begin to imagine - and so that first Antarctic storm that brought such gifts in its wake keeps bringing more through its first gift.
To Gary Speed, Lou de Misa, and so many others who chose to open those gates and walk through them, requiescite in pace and blessed be, and these words of Kahlil Gibran are ours to you:
Sons of my ancient mother, you riders of the tides,
How often have you sailed in my dreams. And now you come in my awakening, which is my deeper dream.
Ready am I to go, and my eagerness with sails full set awaits the wind.
Only another breath will I breathe in this still air, only another loving look cast backward,
Then I shall stand among you, a seafarer among seafarers.
To those who also turned away from the gates - and we always know eachother, don't we, by the look - welcome back, blessed be, and there is much work to be done, and so many to be with. Let us begin.
To those now in their Antarctic storm, feeling alone, unable to see, with the ferocious wind in your face - know that we are here. Even across the world, we reach for you, we sit with you, even if you do not know us or cannot see us. Whatever choice you make, we will witness for you and bless you on your way, walking with you as far as we can.
If you choose to turn your back at the gates and come back, I can tell you this:
We will be here, and the day will dawn - at first the faintest blush on the horizon, and it will emerge differently for each one of you, but the light will come.
That's a promise.