The Radiance of Pain

Before Now After (Mama, Mummy and Mamma)--Njideka Akunyili Crosby“We’re all just walking each other home.” It’s a phrase that’s been ringing in my ears lately. I don’t remember who said it. I could Google the answer, but I like not knowing, as if the phrase were as common as “sly as a fox” or “out of the frying pan, into the fire.”

I wish it were.

What’s made me remember these words is the pain I’ve witnessed this year. I don’t normally discuss my clientele because I would not be a very trustworthy intuitive if I did. Some colleagues do, of course–usually when they count celebrities among them–but while I understand the impulse and hope everyone is being discussed with their consent, I feel I must adhere to very clear ethics because intuitive work is not regulated though it entails such fragile, precious material–namely, souls.

And rule number one is hold your counsel.

Still, I feel comfortable saying that my clients have experienced more than their fair share of pain this year. It’s not just that the public sphere has penetrated the bubble of our daily lives, though it has more than any year since my father pulled me awake so I could watch Richard Nixon resign. It’s that any soul unsure of its place in the world took leave this year, and only some did so in peace.

Personally, I’ve had tougher years–years when I was not sure how to pay for food, let alone rent. Years when people I loved turned into wolves and my love blinded me to that transformation. Years when I lost so much that I did not know if the world wanted me at all.

This has not been that kind of year. Rather, it has been a year in which many people I love have suffered terrible, multiple tragedies, and my job has been to breathe with them until they could breathe alone. It is true that my romantic life has been as confounding as ever, but I resigned myself long ago to the fact that I am a priestess rather than a wife, so romances will provide my most profound and challenging spiritual lessons.

But these matters of the heart are nothing compared to the hits others have sustained. On the news, in my friendship circle, and in my office, I have borne witness as the suffering have wept and raged at the heavens. I have sat with them, refilled Kleenex boxes, charted healing paths when I could. I also have marveled. For in their pain these humans glow.

Parents and partners and pets and compatriots have died, lovers and jobs have fallen away, bodies have foundered, and roots have been pulled out of individual lives and our burning nation. So many Public Crosbyhave reached their bottom, as the AA parlance goes. And as they have told their stories, they have emitted the softest, purest light. Their eyes have been puffy, their complexions blotchy, their hair matted, their clothing stained. Many have even stunk of their grief: an acrid, rotten lemon. Yet they never have been more beautiful. When I squint my eyes to perceive their aura, I see them bathed in rose and amber–the color of sunrises, of spring and autumn, gorgeously united.

When I close my eyes I still see the glow.

It is true that when hearts are broken, not all of them heal. But some stay open rather than scarring over. Some people don’t just soften their ways; they soften all of our ways. They light our walks, connect our hearths. Some–so many—are radiant in their pain.

art: Njideka Akunyili Crosby

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy