Galling bitterness. These two words seem to capture it tonight. After a cold and dreary day at work I said a simple “bye” to a few coworkers on the way out the hall. Somehow I stopped at one guy and exchanged a few extra words. Somehow he gave me a ride down the hill to the apartments our company puts us up in. Somehow I end up in his flat. And somehow, somewhere in this process – I don’t remember where anymore – he breaks to me that he’s getting a divorce. She’s not the person he thought she was. She’s accusing him of things he didn’t do. Spreading lying rumors about him, while he keeps telling others she’s a nice person to hide what’s going on. She’s getting drunk, he can’t drink because he’s too distraught. He’s no angel. But she’s a money grabber. Periodically he puts his head in his hands and mutters “Oh -[an explitive or two]” near tears, but fighting them back.
What can I say? I know them both. We’ve had good times together. What can I say? I feel like an infant attempting to move an Everest of pain with a spoon. I listen. Empathize. Say I’m sorry. A word or two of hopeful cliches. Take his mention of motorcycles and run with it to let him think about something else, of better days, except for his stories of motorcycle accidents… phone calls involving divorce lawyers punctuate our talking. A couple hours pass. A friend of his comes over for a bit, then leaves. I leave too.
I go down the steps and into the dull cold night air, distraught and wishing there was something I could do. I go to my building and want something from my refigerator to give some distraction to this. It’s not there. Roommate took it. And he’s out somewhere now. So, I’m wrote this now. Galling bitterness – these two words for me ring with my feeling sorry for another human being. But I’m not going through his hell. His two words for tonight will be something else. Darker. And not just tonight. And not just two words.
It’s been long time coming. I haven’t really stopped writing the past two years. It’s just on a moleskin notebook, the back of receipts or other scraps of paper instead of a blog. The private pen, paper, and my lonesome eyes seemed to better fit the times for me, though admittedly fits poorly in the public internet’s immediacy. Not updating a blog for years is like blog suicide. On social networks you’re supposed to post everything for everyone to see all the time.
Has a people ever been so public?
Some Native American tribes in the 1800s had this superstition that having your photograph taken would capture your soul. Maybe that’s not all wrong.
Some time ago a friend posted a picture of me on social media. It caught my facial expression at a certain moment that somehow revealed, or exposed, something of me. I had no control over this – it was just put up as a nice picture, unasked. Why ask, anyway? Everyone uploads pictures of others – it’s actually considered a nice thing to do. Despite the photographer’s innocent gesture, I recoiled at this unwelcome capture of a side of my soul I usually conceal.
What I write is under my control at least. I can choose to publish it, even though anything written reveals something of the writer. It will. The past few years I’ve written the most in my lowest times. You might call it “depression” but that word doesn’t do sad feelings justice. I prefer to say more musical or philosophical-sounding things like “the blues” or “melancholy” or in a really cynical mood to myself, “the hole” or “the dark.”
All that to say, I will start posting a few things I wrote over my absence on this blog.
Each one will begin with “Some time ago…”
Life is a very sad affair when you think about it. Even the most indelible optimist would admit life’s dark side: Time goes on and on, making you age, and never waits. Longings are never truly fulfilled even in the best of times, and when good times pass, you can only grasp at the fleeting memory. Heartbreak and hard-knocks, disappointment and death punctuate our lives. Death is inevitable, and so is being forgotten by this world.
Is it a surprise that depression is a widespread human problem? Everyone is sad at least sometimes. But the ancients recognized various personality types, that some were more prone to it than others. The Greeks called the person “Melancholic” who happens to be bent toward sadness — maybe because they weary themselves on thinking too much about life and are driven crazy. I take Michael de Montaigne tongue-in-cheek when he writes “Plato calls meloncholics more teachable and excellent; at the same time there are none who have as great a propensity to madness.”* But if sadness is a reality of life, there’s no harm thinking about it. Maybe going insane over it highlights the problem better.
It’s unfortunate that we ignore melancholic people so often. At least, I do. I regret this especially with one person I knew in college. He considered his overall college experience to be a negative one. He told me about midway through our relationship that he tends to be “emo” (in temperament, not fashion). At the time, I valued that he would say this to me. Pity I never followed up on it. In the busyness of school we didn’t spend even an hour hanging out before we graduated. I didn’t stop by and say goodbye like I said I would, before he got on a plane back to the Midwest. I’ve lost track of him now and was “defriended” on facebook some months later. I don’t blame him. I wasn’t a very good friend. Fleeting good intentions don’t mean much unless acted out. It makes me sick to think how careless I was.
Why is it so easy to brush others aside and forget them? My friend was so quiet, I hardly noticed him. We’re attracted to vivacious people maybe. Depressed people are a drain. What’s worse, you sometimes really can’t get them out of it. They’re inconsolable, like Eeore in Winnie the Pooh. Perhaps they like to be sad? Sometimes sadness is a relief to me too. But really, I can’t imagine people wanting to be sad all the time. Maybe they find some comfort in depression? I should stop, I’m no psychologist. But I am a friend to others. That means sticking with them, even if they are inconsolable. Helping an inconsolable person is quite a trick. One idea I’ve mused on is from King David’s Psalm 42, a Lament Psalm for the spiritually depressed:
“Why are you in despair, O my soul? Why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet again praise him.” (Psalm 42.5 NASB).
The Psalmist recognized something that everyone needs in order to survive through the dark: hope. Maybe hope should be the focus more than consolation. Sometimes, life is a bear; so saying “It’s not that bad” doesn’t help. Tim Keller says “Human beings are hope-shaped creatures. How you live today is completely shaped by what you believe about your future.” There is some undying spark of hope within those who press on in hardship that prevents them from doing something to stop their heartbeat. Some hope for better times in the future. But though there are no guarantees on life getting better, are there? This is what we might call “wishing” hope. You don’t know, but it might get better, and the possibility is keeping you up. But how do you know it won’t get worse? And chances are we will get old and decrepit eventually, unless we die young, which is kind of hopeless in itself. This is why the Psalmist hopes in God. It’s hope in someone who is eternal and doesn’t fade.
I haven’t found yet how to hold a “this-world, this-life only” kind of hope and live a consistent, meaningful life. Transcendent or other-worldly hope, of heaven, or paradise or whatever you call it, is needed to make a “this-world, this-life” hope make sense in the first place. If the object of hope is indestructible, so can you hope be.
*Apology for Raymond Sebond by Michael de Montaigne, p 53