Here’s a golden treasure gleaned from one of the darkest cave times of my life.
The same summer I met James Taylor while training as chaplain in a New York City hospital, I chose to serve the population of terminally ill children. Because I had always loved children, I imagined that I would go into their rooms, cheering them up with my theatrical and musical background, and offering them some joy for their pain-filled days.
After working in the hospital for a month, I slipped down into the abyss of the “dark night of the soul.” I was a basket case—depressed, weepy, sullen. I certainly wasn’t entertaining the children. I couldn’t bear to witness the children’s suffering anymore, or listen to their screams while I held them down and the nurses stuck them with needles or pumped them up with medications that burned their tender skin.
To my credit (and amazement), I kept showing up.
Though I tried to cherish every child, I admit I had a few favorites on the ward. I befriended a little girl named Tara, a name I had imagined I might give a daughter of mine one day. Tara had already lost one leg to cancer, but she never complained. We loved singing Broadway musicals together, especially Annie. We hammed it up gloriously.
One morning as I began my rounds, I eagerly poked my head into Tara’s room to see her. Surprised, I saw that her bed was stripped of its sheets. Confused, I found a nurse and asked her where Tara was. Shaking her head, she informed me that Tara had died in the night.
Tara’s death pushed me over the edge. Even with my worldview that God was all-loving and no soul was ever lost, I couldn’t bear another one of those sweet young children dying so cruelly.
Back in my dorm room on that sweltering July night, I threw myself on my bed, so furious with God that I yelled right out loud: “It’s not fair! It’s not fair!”
Sobbing in my helplessness to save the children, the words of the Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas, sprang to mind: “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
And rage I did. “No more dying! No more! Please!”
Finally, sapped of all desire or strength to fight God’s inscrutable ways, I gave up. I gave in. I surrendered.
“OK, God,” I thought. “You win.”
Total silence descended upon me like a soft blanket. Without effort, my heart opened like a lotus to embrace the darkness.
A kind, gentle voice whispered to me: “My dear Pam, don’t you see? You’re all terminal. It’s just that some of you know it and others don’t.”
I was stunned.
After some moments, I realized that the voice spoke the truth. I was healthy and young and felt as if I would live forever, but I was going to die someday. I could be hit by a truck tomorrow, but I wasn’t mourning the loss of my life today. Yet there I was, mourning these children before they were dead.
I found my treasure in the darkness: these children were living children.