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I brushed the tears from my cheeks as I stumbled down the steps, turning as I reached the end. As I stared up at the cathedral, others swarmed around me. I saw hands held, people embracing, kisses on cheeks, and as it was each Sunday, I felt the pang of loneliness inside myself.
I didn’t know why I went to church every week. I left the service in tears each time, and yet the following Sunday, I would dress in my best to sit in my empty pew, overly conscious of the seemingly vast space on either side of me.
And so that Sunday I stood, as I often did, gazing at the cross atop the building, wondering why it had nothing to offer me. Though I was obviously blocking people’s paths, week after week no one acknowledged my vacant eyes and wet cheeks, and week after week I went home alone.
So that Sunday I wasn’t expecting anything out of the ordinary. My vision blurred by tears, I began to cross the street without thinking about it. Maybe I was expecting the impact. Maybe, given others’ disregard of me, I expected the driver not to see me. Maybe, in my subconscious, I wanted it to happen.
I registered that I was in pain, but physically, I didn’t feel it. Emotionally, it hit me harder than anything I had ever experienced. My eyes staring up blank, my body rigid, I heard someone say I was in shock as my mind reeled.
Perhaps the jarring impact of a car crash was what I needed at the time. Hit at sixty miles per hour, the collision may have awakened me enough to address what I was feeling. I had been blocking out my sadness, trying to stow away my emotions, but as the car hit me, they all came rushing out.
I didn’t register them fully at the time. I was floating in a state between life and death, my consciousness fading in and out. I heard a vague murmur of voices around me, felt the shock of electricity jolting through me, heard the wail of a siren, but despite these efforts, my consciousness slipped away fully.
Some who have been as near to death as I have don’t remember it, others claim to have seen a light at the end of a tunnel. As much as I often wished I hadn’t, I did remember my precarious balance on the edge of death. But differently than others who tell the story, I saw no light.
I remember only a state of nothingness. Darkness cloaked everything surrounding me, even shadows escaping me for the lack of illumination. There I floated, not dead but barely alive, with nothing tethering me to the Earth and a lack of hope. In this state I wished only for death to end the nothingness.
I don’t know how long I floated in that state. It may have been hours or it may have been only seconds, but as electricity shocked me back into the tangible world, I awoke screaming, my face streaked with tears and my mouth frothing. And as much I was glad to have escaped that existence, I was riddled with fear of going back.
Throughout my hospital stay, I often wondered what would have happened had death taken me. Would I have stayed in that black world of no existence? Would there have been anywhere else for me to go?
Those who have seen the light speak of moving towards it, but I had not been offered that comfort. There was no point in the darkness for me to move towards, and so I imagined that when my death’s day arrived, I would remain trapped in the nothingness forever.
I was released from the hospital in December, a few days before Christmas. It was a time of year that I dreaded as I reflected on the prospect of spending the holiday alone. And every Christmas eve, I went to church alone and returned home to a cold and empty bed, hoping that I wouldn’t wake the next morning.
That Christmas eve, I didn’t arrive at the church until the service had already begun. My steps began to feel heavier as I neared the entrance. There I stood, the church before me, vast in its magnificence. I could hear the sounds of prayer and hymn echoing from the inside, and it occurred to me that I had nothing to add to the service.
The door handles stood heavy before me. They daunted me, daring me to pull them, while lacking invitation. And so there I stood, unable to enter, but unwilling to turn away as tears slipped down my face.
Looking back, I realize that forcing myself to go to church was a factor in my unhappiness. I didn’t derive any pleasure from the experience, and I had begun to blame God for my troubles. The thought that God was responsible for my state of mind had planted itself in my mind, and I had stopped trying to be happy.
In some, there is as much of a lack of God as there is abundance in others. Perhaps it is a state of mind, perhaps God only shows Himself to certain people. But for whatever reason, God had evaded me, and self-reliance was all that I had.
As I stood before the church, snow began to fall, flakes catching in my hair and on my clothes. Coldness surrounding me, I was surprised by the warmth of a hand on my shoulder. I turned, startled, to see a man gazing at me with compassion in his eyes.
“Did you come here alone?” he asked. As I nodded, I could see understanding in his eyes. “Come on,” he said. “Let’s go for a walk.”
I set off beside him, unsure of his reasoning but grateful for the company. And as our footsteps crunched through snow and his pace matched mine, he reached out to take my hand.
In myself, I did not have God. In life, I did not have miracles. I had only what I could make of myself, and the comfort that I could derive from others. And as we walked together, snowflakes catching in our hair, I knew that happiness was not with God. Happiness was in the simplicity of the warmth of another’s hand in mine.
Church bells rang as we walked through the streets. As others celebrated the birth of Christ, I rejoiced in the company of another. And as the new day began, hand in hand we walked towards the light.