Opening The Black Box: Part 1

Busy, busy place our little fibro home. Teenage children crowding: two minute noodles, friends, music: loud! And me, the middle-aged dad, knowing less about life than ever. This learning curve about me is steep and getting steeper. ‘How are the children?' my on-the-phone wife asks the voice at the other end. Wonder who she's talking to? ‘Where will they stay?' she asks. Ah! This is about old mate who's on the way out with cancer. His wife and kids need help. Something clicks! inside me. ‘They'll stay with us,' I almost yell. ‘All with us, the mother, all of them—forever!' Where did that come from? I nearly lost it right there. The day wears on. They're coming to stay. Great. Back at my screen in a dusty, cobwebbed office, something's not right. The heart's pounding, booming out of the chest like in a rugby game. This is no ordinary palpitation. Had those for years. This is like running hard: thumping, thumping, thumping but not out of breath. Walking in the yard should fix it. Nope! Still going hammer and tongs. Lying down, pressing on the eyeballs—the Vagus nerve trick—which works on palpitations. But no dice. Finally, it goes away of its own accord. Days pass and it's all good. The children come to stay. Meanwhile, we're sorting the logic of the click! and the pounding. It has to be something to do with when Mum got sick. She and Dad went away and me and the brothers went to a hostel. I was six. It's an emotional trigger event. That's all this is. Back at work. Talking to young adults about life and faith. Taking a lost boy for a long walk at night. He needs to let some anger out. Meanwhile, under my own skin: ships sinking, spaces filling with a hurrying, flooding ocean. What the hell? It's a new day. I'm caught out. Can't stop it. Here it comes: a gigantic black crate seeming to drop out of the sky. A caged monster crashing around, flames shooting out the cracks. And me the little boy, terrified. I'm supposed to flip the latch, to let it out. It goes away like a truck passing on a highway. Maybe it's medication and lock-up time. ‘It's imagination,' I say. 'You've been helping one too many traumatised kids.' But I know imagination. This is not imagination. It's real. And there's my wife and lover praying with and for me—and both of us hoping for a way ahead, that this won't be some dead end street. Not now, we have enough on our plate. Days drag on. ‘This is embarrassing bullshit,' I murmur. ‘I'll fix it myself.' ‘Whatever you do,' a friend says, ‘don't try to fix it yourself.' ‘So,' my prayer to God voice says, ‘What do I do now?' Maybe there's someone out there who could help, the idea returns to me. I laugh, thinking of all the disappointed people I know: stories of quacks and healers. Maybe you're not ready yet. Don't lose your nerve. ‘God did not give us a spirit of fear,' I say, quoting an old verse, ‘but a Spirit of power, of love and a sound mind.'* So, here we are, walking the dog down to a rippling brown river and wondering. Is there such a thing as a prayer or a question that's before its time? Or things that need to be allowed to have their day? We stop. Under a cold grey sky. The dog looks at me. What the? Did I just hear a murmur of dissent from my false-self? That middle aged—well educated—voice: offended at the suggestion that there's something on offer that I'm missing out on: terrified of the chaos this might unleash, or, if truth be told, the freedom. We reach the river, water rippling over stones and the fresh, sweet smell of a sandbar. On the haunches now, head bowed. The dog licks my hand. Before we try to sail this ship on the next Big Life Journey, perhaps we need to allow things in the harbour to float out to sea: half-formed dreams, faces running with tears, premonitions and prayers. Grievings of the Holy Spirit, longing to have a voice in the space, time and matter that is me? We make it back to the house. The un-pulling is heavier. Remember, don't lose your nerve. Trust. Pray. So tired. Have to sleep. Everyone's out, thank goodness. Here comes the lying on the floor part, paralysed. And a flashback dialogue with a fourteen year old girl, of which I'm speaking both sides—seeming to gather information about the six year old me in a trauma hell-hostel. Like a video replay. ‘Father in Heaven,' I pray. ‘What do I do now?' Relax. Lie here, wait and let it play. You're not crazy. This is real. ‘Trust in me,' the words seem to be spoken directly to me. Days and weeks pass with more monster in the cage moments, flashbacks: waiting, thinking and praying. I talk with a friend about the monster in the cage. ‘I remember that,' she says. ‘I was sitting on a huge box: all these tentacles coming out.' Oh. She's one of the sanest people I know. Maybe there is hope. ‘I had to choose to open the lid,' she says. I knew she would say that. ‘So,' she continues, ‘You're ready to open it are you?' ‘Yes.' * 2 Timothy 1:7

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