The Heart of Darkness
A couple of days ago I happened to have a conversation with one of my students which reminded me of something someone once said to me: ‘men can be divided into two categories: there are those who are afraid and remain paralyzed by fear, growing lazy because of it, surrendering before they even try, and those who are afraid but they are brave enough to dare.’ He added that he might be ‘vulgarizing it’, but the great challenge was for someone in the first category to try and be part of the second.
Fear is something to be completely terrified of. Still, it is the deepest human experience, the bell reminding us of how little we are in this universe, how fragile and vulnerable. Being afraid establishes and annihilates our ego in one blow. Fear is a blessing: if we were not afraid we would not be able to acknowledge or powerlessness. We are painfully aware of our limits when we fear, and of our strength too. When we fear we are looking at ourselves straight in the eyes, without veils or excuses. We are what we are, and we are brave enough to admit we are afraid. Real strength is to admit our weakness.
Almost five years ago life hurled me right into the soul of fear, the soul of darkness. I fought the greatest battle of my existence against an invisible enemy which had grown inside me, silently, secretly. To this day, even though such a long time has passed, it is still hard for me to talk about it, but slowly I am finding the necessary peace of mind to turn my head and look again into that heart of darkness which swallowed me. I won against my enemy, I was afraid and weak, and I felt strong and ready to battle, because nothing was going to take my life away like that, silently, secretly, in the space of a few months. I am still here, always near the edge, my memories vivid everyday, the dark pit before my eyes every second, but I am not going to fall.
Cancer is an atrocious disease. It takes everything from you. Your body has betrayed you, – somewhere, when did it happen? why? – the enemy has hit you where you least expected it, and every minute you wonder how fast it’s eating you, you look at your reflection in the mirror seeing somebody else. It wants your body and it wants your mind. You see yourself changing, throughout the months – your hair has gone, your skin feels thin as paper, every smell hits your stomach as a punch, you change shape, your veins hurt with the medicine which is destroying you and saving you. It is destroying that part of you which needs to go, it is killing one part of you so that all the rest can live on. You must keep your head: you will make it, you will, you must make it. The doctors will do 50, you do the rest. If your mind is not strong your body won’t follow, and so you gather all your energy, your deepest and primeval strength, you are all inside yourself, your heart beats proudly and fast, and you are afraid, oh yes you are, when you get your foot in the hospital, but you tell yourself ‘here I am, get me those needles and let’s destroy this motherfucker.’
You do not shed a tear, and you are right there, in the heart of darkness, surrounded by it every minute, and you are fighting, and fighting more, and the more you feel tired, the hungrier you get, the more your veins burn, the more your heart shouts LET ME LIVE.
No way. I wasn’t going to go like that. Not a Scorpio ascendant Aries like me.
I was there shouting at that monster inside me it would have taken him much more than that to devastate me, to devour me, to wipe me off the face of this earth.
It was there, where I least expected to find it, in the blackest, filthiest, heart of darkness, that the light shone brightest.
It is paradoxical, and still mysterious to me, how, right in the moment when you feel most terrified, you feel ready to defy anyone and anything which will get in your way. You spend most of the time fearing something you are not facing yet, but when you do you are ready to jump into it, no more words, thoughts, you just go – nothing can hurt you, nothing can be taken from you, nothing can push you down, because you are already at the bottom, and that bottom is also your peak. There is nothing after fear, and when you are jumping into the fire of battle shaking, your mouth dry, your voice gone, there is nothing which will make you more afraid, because you know already in the heart of fear. You already know the heart of darkness.
I sang to myself, in silence. Those long hours at the hospital I only had music in my head. When I was little, and I was scared of moving from one room to the other, lights switched off, I sang to myself too. It kept me company and I thought it would push the ghosts away. Worst thing they could do was to enjoy the song and start dancing to it, I thought. I sang, into that heart of darkness, and I still do.
I keep my eyes closed because I’m there when I’m singing. I’m going back to that dark room, to that black heart. It is there all my battles are fought, it is only there that I find my centre, my balance. And right there I am reminded of all the pain, the tears of joy to know that another life had been given to me, the madness, the doubt, the terror, the squeezed stomach, the hiccuping lungs. I know that place: it is the abyss, but I learnt to face it back then and I only feel safe there. And that is where I am, when I sing, that is where I go.
Bitter memories are the most precious thing we have. By a bizarre transformation, the black hole becomes the outer shape of the sun, projecting its light onto every moment of our lives. It is the scale by which we measure everything else. One should never forget some things – or rather, learn how to live with those memories. The heart of darkness becomes the eye of the Sun, and through that eye – the eye of pain, the gaze of annihilation, the look of despair – we learn how to laugh and celebrate every moment we are given. Those are gifts, one must be careful with them.
I was given another chance: to love, to try, to go wrong. A chance to be afraid once more. Somewhere inside me the heart of darkness still lives, but it is a part of me, and I never forget: there can’t be shadows without the light of the Sun.