The small mountain town I live in is the path of totality for the solar eclipse. For a couple minutes I hope to stand in darkness during the middle of the day, seeing stars and even planets.

Reckoning with darkness seems fitting this August.

My dad is dying. He’s one of the best men I know, a person who’s inspired me to be better, to grow, that trying and showing up matter most.

A friend committed suicide, leaving his friends reeling in disbelief, reconstructing conversations to solve the puzzle of why. I remember dogs piled on his lap, his broad smile, and meandering conversations after the rapids, paddling the last flat sections to the take out.

The events in Charlottesville feel like too much to absorb. Hate chanted openly on streets, fear raging, pulsing through the news.

A friend sends me an update about the logging visible from Devil’s Courthouse on the Parkway, how it looks like a clear cut. This was a place that was supposed to heal me.

I struggle to believe in anything even when I want to believe in everything. The most predominant desire isn’t to fix or to grieve or feel at all. I most want to turn away, to pretend that nothing bad is happening. If I could, I’d stick my head in a hole.

The kind of bravery it would take to be still with myself, but also with my dad seems too much.  I am ill-equipped to sit with him as he takes in a whole life, in quiet and laughter.

I go home, reminding myself to make special last memories, to tell him all the things. Between the endless doctor appointments and logistics I mostly feel tired.

I dare myself to ask him if he’s afraid of dying. It’s the hardest question I’ve asked, knowing that more likely than not I can’t do a damn thing about it, can’t take his fear away or pretend it’s not happening.

When I return to Western North Carolina, I go to my friend’s memorial paddle. We tell stories about him. We laugh, we cry, and for the first time all week I breathe deeply, feeling the simple pleasure of a sweet exhale.

I go to Devil’s Courthouse, holding the contradiction of the wilderness – the uninterrupted waves of majestic mountains juxtaposed with newly hacked down trees, a wake of dust where it once was vibrant green.

I am gutted, taking it in, an assault to my eyes. This is what death looks like.

I see the stumps and think of dad’s frailness.  My mind churns words.

Abyss.

Loss.

Grief.

The void in the forest makes me feel empty and hopeless, adding to the mountain of sadness inside me.

When I look at all that dirt, I think about the holes in the ground left when the statues were removed across the South, leaving voids.

These are spaces that we get to decide how to use. I realize this is also a place ripe for birth, for regrowth.  I wonder how I will move forward, how our country will.

The eclipse will be seen from coast to coast, shrouding us in shadow. Sometimes standing in the darkness is necessary to reveal the things we haven’t wanted to see. Allowing all the difficult emotions to wash over us, guides us in the direction of meaningful lives, the work of creating a loving, and compassionate world.

After the momentary darkness during the solar eclipse, there’s another phenomena – a 360 degree sunset. As the sun sets in all directions, I will let my gaze linger on all the light and remember that beauty always follows even the darkest times.