We had our fourteenth annual Memorial Conference last week in memory of our daughter Erin, focusing on the neurobiology of eating disorders and anxiety. The staff at the Nutrition Clinic in Elmira does a wonderful job of pulling it together with style. Every year I’m grateful that this is continuing to be a valuable experience for the many who attend, and gladdened to connect with those who come year after year. And of course I think about my daughter Erin, and the journey we had that was so difficult for us both.
This morning I read an article in which Mark Nepo quotes the Italian novelist, Umberto Eco: “If you were given the truth immediately, you would not recognize it, because your heart would not have been purified by the long quest.” In the midst of the helplessness, anxiety, and grief I felt as I watched my daughter slowly starve herself to death, I was too caught up in the pain to take in what was happening as a quest. And that’s how it is when we are hurting. All we can do is hold onto whatever lamppost we can find in the storm, and wait for the emotional winds to die down. It was only later that I could begin to find some meaning in the suffering I experienced, which is why I persisted in writing Riptide, my memoir of those difficult years.
At the end of this article, Nepo says, “…when all seems broken and we can’t bear to feel one more thing, the heart is always deeper, larger, stronger than we think; it is ready to hold us like a great substantial shore. And when we feel we have nothing left to give, this is just when the gift that only we contain is about to show itself, like an edible flower breaking ground after the storm.”
So the endpoint of therapy is to know this gift. We may never understand why certain things have happened to us, but hopefully we come to understand and have deep appreciation for allowing our pain to deepen and expand our hearts, opening us to more light and compassion than we knew how to contain before. In this advent of anticipating the return of the light, let us always remember that we carry that light, and it is up to us to be a light-bearer for those who don’t yet see it in themselves.