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Heart of Darkness

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I wrote this not long after the 9/11 attacks. Rereading it today, I was surprised to find that there is little I would add to it ten years later – except, of course, to note that America has not responded to its Pluto/Ascendant transit any better than I did.

Heart of Darkness
by April Elliott Kent

 ” ‘ When a man has learned within his heart what fear and trembling mean, he is safeguarded against any terror produced by outside influences.’ “
“I don’t really understand that.”
“You will, one day. When the worst has happened, and still you continue to breathe.”

— Gwyneth Cravens, “Love and Work”

Grief can make you angry, and a little nuts.

From about 1995, when my brother died, to 1997, when my mother died — a time frame which, incidentally, coincided with transiting Pluto crossing my Ascendant — I felt like the angriest person in the world. And since there was nobody to get angry at, lots of people caught schrapnel from my periodic explosions. Soon after my brother’s death, his widow — a woman I’d regarded as a sister for twenty years — made a couple of tactical errors and was vaporized from my life with a single nuclear blast. Several long standing friendships were destroyed in bloody, surgical battles. Clients who transgressed my boundaries were unceremoniously kicked to the curb. And one day when my boss hollered at me I turned around, threw some personal things in a box, and simply walked out. Every day, it seemed, I grew angrier and angrier, increasingly depressed, and more and more isolated. Several people — nice, interesting people — made overtures of friendship during that time, but I resisted getting too close. Suddenly I could see other people only in terms of the harm we were capable of inflicting on one another.

Six months after my mother died I could literally barely walk. My back, always my weak spot, was constantly seizing up and putting me out of commission for days at a time, and I was having problems with my feet. I tried prosthetics for my feet and saw my chiropractor regularly, but these remedies were limited in their effectiveness. The message was clear: I wasn’t moving forward. In fact, I was hardly moving at all.

Fortunately I was pursuing a degree from my local community college which required that I take two physical education classes. In 1999 I signed up for a yoga class, and after only two classes of breathing and stretching I was able to get around almost completely without pain. For an hour and a half, two days a week, I devoted myself completely to relaxing, giving in, softening. The physical relief was enormous; I still practice yoga regularly to keep myself getting around smoothly.

Along with the physical pain, some of that white hot anger gradually subsided too; but six years down the road I find I’m still a lot more short tempered, irritable, and judgmental than I used to be. Every step of the way, it seems, I took the wrong approach in handling my grief and consequently hurt myself and other people. In hindsight, it’s easy to see where I went wrong, what I could have done differently, how I might have allowed those experiences to deepen me, to increase my compassion, to teach me. Instead I fought back at an ill defined enemy with everything in me, with all my implacable hatred, and launched dozens of powerful but unnecessary battles. In the end, nothing was accomplished except that I was left physically and emotionally hobbled.

Two deaths. That’s all it took to transform me, in two years, from a fairly open, emotionally accessible, and forgiving person into someone I barely recognized, someone a lot more bitter and wary than I ever wanted to be. It took only two deaths, two years apart, to upset the balance in me between love and hate, to tip the scales just a little further in the direction of hate. Who knows what the deaths of 3,000 people in a single day will do to the character of my country?

Like most everyone else I have personal feelings about what happened here on September 11, and strong convictions as to why it happened and what my country’s response should be. But my feelings and thoughts are not unique and are no more valid than anyone else’s, and I doubt I could express them with any more eloquence than the dozens of talented writers speaking out on the subject. Since I have very strong feelings but few answers, all I will offer a country currently experiencing its own Pluto/Ascendant transit is what I learned from my own walk through the heart of darkness:

  • There is no such thing as safety.
  • The consequence of hardening ourselves against possible threat is pain.
  • The consequence of distancing ourselves from other people is loneliness.
  • The consequence of hatred is unhappiness.

My own response to Pluto/Ascendant grief and loss resulted in excessive pain and suffering for myself and others. My hope is that my country can find a way to transcend its collective suffering, will choose its battles very, very carefully, and will ultimately prove much greater, stronger, and more compassionate than I did.

© 2001 April Elliott Kent. All rights reserved

Sibley (12 Sagittarius Rising) Chart for the United States at the Mountain Astrologer website. On the date of the attack transiting Pluto was at 14 degrees Sagittarius.

6 comments to " Heart of Darkness "

  • I am so sorry about your brother and mother. My sister died in 1992. The only thing that saved me was being pregnant with my son.

    I find that if I allow myself to feel all my feelings (even the sucky ones) I am ok. But it has taken 14 years to get here.

    I just wonder if we had really grieved and not turned our emotions to hatred where we would be. And, I think our “leaders” took advantage of our grief for their own reasons.

    I cannot watch any 9/11 coverage. It is just too much for me and I don’t personally know anyone who involved.

  • Thank you so much, Nancy. I’ve noticed your references to your sister on your blog and have always felt so much empathy for you. It takes a very long time to get past the most intense part of the grieving. Unfortunately, based on my own experience, I don’t imagine the U.S. will pull itself together for many more years to come.

    I can’t watch any of the 9/11 coverage either. It feels manipulative to me… politicians using one of our most horrible collective experiences to try to improve their approval ratings; the media exploiting it for advertising dollars. I can’t say I’m surprised, but I am disappointed. I had hoped we were better than that. But the past five years in particular have really made me doubt it.

  • Chris

    April I can’t help but feel sad reading your post. I feel some connection to your pain, although it can’t ever compare to losing your closest relatives, I had a couple of motor vehicle accidents that may have sent me a little “nuts” for want of a better word. I felt like a mini-tornado ran rampant through my life for a period of 10 hours and up-rooted everything I held dear.
    However I am a little more optimistic than you, maybe because I’m getting on in years, but I can’t help but feel that the human spirit is capable of both enormous cruelty and volumes of kindness. Maybe even by the same person. Who knows, maybe you should give your country more time.
    Keep well,

  • Hi Chris, and thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. I guess I kind of am trying to give my native land a bit more time to pull itself together; at least, I haven’t run off to New Zealand yet, as I keep threatening to do. 🙂 My mother’s sense of perspective is what I find myself missing most of all. A die-hard liberal and a sensible, comforting Taurus, she was great at talking me down from ledges (figuratively speaking!) when I started railing about politics. Her take on it all, I feel certain, would have echoed your own optimism; I’ll try to keep her voice – and yours – in my mind when I begin wringing my hands!

  • Chris

    Hi April,
    I thought Canada might be a bit closer geographically speaking..he..he..he. Either way, I’m sure I speak for most readers when I say I’m glad you haven’t run off to Kiwi land, even though I do hold a soft spot for the All Blacks (awesome rugby team).
    Seriously though, I wanted some advice regarding your comment
    “Clients who transgressed my boundaries were unceremoniously kicked to the curb”.
    I seem to find myself in a similar position, but since I’ve left my post, is it wise that I speak to my ex-employer and get them to apologise to the client on my behalf( my conscience is killing me, he was a sweet old man like my Dad). What happened was that I let my over-sensitivity create a problem in my professional capacity…why didn’t I just cry like a girl instead…sigh.
    Can you offer some insight…..I know I’ve waffled on, but it would help me to go to sleep at night, sad but true.

    Thanks for all your help, again
    Gratefully yours

  • Hi Chris, and apologies for the delay in replying to your comment. Yeah, Canada’s closer, but I’m married to a Kiwi – so it’s always tempting to consider NZ! 🙂

    If you’re on good terms with your ex-employer, I wonder if a graceful approach might be to give them a letter for your client and ask that it be forwarded on your behalf? I’m certain your client would appreciate it; it might remove some of the sting for both of you if he could be reassured that he simply caught you on a bad day and that you regret losing your professionalism. And no doubt you’d sleep better nights!

    So write your letter, and then, satisfied that you’ve truly learned everything you can from this situation, forgive yourself and move on. Chances are that’s exactly what your sweet old client has already done.

    Thanks so much for reading the blog, and warmest wishes – A.