For those who are depressed

The Arnold Arboretum at Dust

The Arnold Arboretum at Dusk

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question …
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.
~ T.S. Eliot

Come for a walk with me, my friend. I know you are tired. I know that sorrow has settled into your bones like the ache from an old war wound. Come with me anyway. Lean on my arm. It is only a few steps to the forest’s entrance, and a few more to a bench where we can rest. I know the colors have gone out of your life and you cannot rouse yourself to remember them. I know. In the twilight the colors of the world are muted, and it will not sting as much when you can only see grey.  We can turn back anytime. Your bed will be waiting for you. Just come out for a few minutes.

Come for a walk with me, dear one. I know that walking is hard, now, that your muscles ache and you feel a weariness that does not pass no matter how much you sleep. I know that talking feels impossible, and that you fear if you do speak you will be unable to stop, and will wear me out with your words, crying over and over of your pain and despair. It’s all right, my friend. You do not have to speak, and if you do there is space in my heart and in the woods for all your pain. There is space for you, my friend, believe me. There is a drought in the world that can only be quenched by your tears, the infinite tears inside you. Come and weep, or come and be silent. Just come.

Come for a walk with me, Beloved. I know you feel nothing but loneliness, and being with people makes you feel even more alone. I know you feel lost and left behind, abandoned by friends and by the God you once adored. I know you feel a betrayal so sharp and real that sometimes you cannot breathe. I know that when I call you God’s Beloved it rings hollow, that if I speak the words of scripture that you used to love they now taste like sand in your mouth. Come into the whispering darkness of the trees at twilight and listen to the scripture there. Come into the shadows of the oaks and lindens until the darkness outside matches the darkness in your soul. And then listen to how the dark speaks its own language, one you could not hear in the bright light of day. If you do not hear it tonight, that’s okay, too. I will walk you home, regardless. I will trust your soul regardless. Beloved, I will.

Come for a walk with me, little sister, little brother. I have been here before and am older than you by a year or two. Let me hold your hand as you learn to walk in this new world. You have been walking for years in the daylight, but this is new territory, this westering world where the shadows trip you as surely as the stones. It is hard to walk, I know, but you can do it. We can do it together, little one. Underneath your despair I can see that spark of strength. Not everyone will realize how much it took you to step outside for these few minutes, but I know. Even if you collapse back in bed for the next twenty-three and a half hours, I know that the courage and strength it took to face the world for those few moments is almost unimaginable. I know you feel so weak, little brother, little sister, but you are strong in ways few people will ever know.

Come for a walk with me, dear reader. I know you have questions I cannot answer, and things in your life I cannot understand. But let’s go for a walk together tonight, away from the cacophony of the city, of the daylight, of the world wide web. Let’s step into the dusky woods together, the quiet dappled evening where the trolls and other monsters cannot follow. Let’s find one of the Ten Thousand Places, one of the hidden places where it’s okay to be sad and unsure, where it’s okay to ask our overwhelming questions and okay to let the answer be that we don’t know. I know you’re tired, and the day has already been far too long. You can rest soon, dear one, I promise. Only first, come, come for a walk.

***

Come for a walk on Facebook, too, if  you’d like to keep in touch.

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On monsters and stars

Walden Pond

Walden Pond

I spent the day at Walden Pond yesterday. It was beautiful and peaceful, and even there I found myself thinking about terrorists and bombings, wondering what I would do, in which direction I would run. When I started thinking about the babies I made myself stop. Psychiatrists have descriptors of this kind of thinking: psychotic depression, or delusional depression. I think these are are inaccurate terms. If I had been in Nice, my thoughts wouldn’t have been wouldn’t have been delusions. They would have been prophetic.

Madeleine L’Engle said that we tell our children there are no monsters, that they are safe, but that is a lie. There are monsters, and we know it, and what we really mean is that the monsters will likely pick some other place to wreak havoc today. We mean we are safe-ish, probably, for now, and that the only way to stay sane is to live in denial about the ish. Some of us are just bad at living in denial. If I were in charge I would call it non-delusional depression. I’d call it paying attention.

But we do have to live our lives, and one thing about depression is that it makes it very hard to keep moving, to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Just being aware of all the pain in your own life, and your friends’ and family’s, and the world tends to make you just want to curl up into a ball and cry. And the problem with that, besides the fact that you are not really enjoying your one wild and precious life, is that you may actually be one of the people who can *do* something about someone else’s pain and suffering. Your awareness of it may not be, or may not only be, a mental illness, a descriptor penned in your chart in the sharp, quick script of an over-scheduled psychiatrist. It may be a call to action. Because you have to be able to see the monsters in order to fight them.

But you have to see something else, too. You have to see the beauty. You have to see the angels, the good, the God. Because in fact you are at Walden Pond, where the green of the trees and the blue of the sky swirl together in the water your body is moving through. You are — rather against your will, but still — sharing that particular cove with a large turtle, who has poked its head out of the water in a little triangle, and is assessing which way you are likely to go so it can go another. You are sitting on your towel, letting the breeze air-dry you, feeling that breeze with every tiny hair that it raises on your arms. You are walking further down the beach, coming around a bend, and finding a cairn in the shallow water, a miracle of architecture, made of stones, balanced on sand, rising out of the water.

S30A09781The monsters are real, but all of this is real, too. In A Wrinkle in Time the angel-like characters, Mrs. Who, Mrs. Which, and Mrs. Whatsit, take the children to space to show them the Darkness, a Thing that is threatening the universe, encroaching upon the earth and many other worlds as well. It is huge and horrible and terrifying. But then they show them something else:

The Darkness seemed to seethe and writhe. Was this meant to comfort them?

Suddenly there was a great burst of light through the Darkness. The light spread out and where it touched the Darkness the Darkness disappeared. The light spread until the patch of Dark Thing had vanished, and there was only a gentle shining and through the shining came the stars, clear and pure. Then, slowly, the shining dwindled until it, too, was gone, and there was nothing but stars and starlight. No shadows. No fear. Only the stars and the clear darkness of space, quite different from the fearful darkness of the Thing…

“It was a star,” Mrs. Whatsit said sadly. “A star giving up its life in battle with the Thing.”

The monsters are real, but the stars are real, too. There is great evil and sadness in the world, but there are also the stars and the clear, good darkness of space. The star that gave its life in the book was fiction, of course, but there are real acts of love and healing every day. My swim through the glacier-dug pond was one. My prayer for my friend as we texted each other that we were struggling was one, and so was hers for me. The act of building the cairn was one, too. Any creative act is.  And I did not think of it yesterday, but a cairn is a memorial, too. Perhaps its maker was a prophet. Perhaps she was carrying the weight of the world’s grief, past and future, and shaped it into the best thing she could, a piece of art. Or perhaps she didn’t know what was going to happen in France today, but just knew that the monsters are real, and she flung her art out against them, a star into the night.

I can’t think of the babies. I have to stop myself. I’m not going to watch the news tonight, or listen to stories. But I am going to pray. And I am going to create. I’m going to write. And I’m going to hold the beauty in my heart, along with the pain. Let this be my prayer for anyone who reads this: Lord, let them see the beauty, too. Let them be it.

Love,
Jessica

Welcoming the dark

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Sunset at Arnold Arboretum

Sunset in Boston these days is at 4:12 pm. Today it finds me sitting on my couch finishing up an editing job, glancing now and then out my eastward facing window at the darkening sky. More than the cold and the snow, winter in New England is defined by me by these early sunsets. It’s still day by the clock, I still have two hours of work on work days and two hours till dinner on non-work days, and four hours after that till bedtime, but night has set in and the next six hours will be passed under artificial lights.

There is something called Seasonal Affective Disorder which means that the person becomes depressed in fall and winter, but I don’t know many people who aren’t affected by the encroaching darkness. It’s just harder to move about in the dark; even with all the lights on you can’t trick your body and spirit into thinking it’s light out. So I’ve found that it helps me to acknowledge the difference. I try to notice when the sun is setting, to take a moment to look out the window, say goodbye to the light, and welcome the darkness. Sometimes it’s just a brief glance and a deep breath, others I take the time to light a candle, say a prayer, or put my hands over my heart in anjali mudra, the gesture of greeting that is also how you set an intention in yoga. I would rather stay in sunlight, but since the night is here I welcome it, acknowledge the sadness and fear that accompany it, and set my intention to move through it as well as I can.

Anjali Mudra by Claudia Tremblay

Anjali Mudra by Claudia Tremblay

Scraps of poems and passages help me, too. I’ll share a few of them here in case they are useful to you, too.

Steadily and continuously that process went on, till now, as he faced his enemies, he felt the interior loss which had attacked him at other stages of his pilgrimage grown into a final overwhelming desolation.  He said to himself again, as he so often said, “This also is Thou,” for desolation as well as abundance was but a means of knowing That which was All.
~Charles Williams, War in Heaven

(Sometimes I say to myself simply, “This also is Thou.”)

And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs–
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
~Gerard Manley Hopkins

I love to think of those lines while watching a winter sunset.

Goodness is stronger than evil;
Love is stronger than hate;
Light is stronger than darkness;
Life is stronger than death;
Victory is ours through Him who loves us.
~Desmond Tutu

Light is stronger than darkness, even when it seems like the darkness is winning.

O holy night!
The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary soul rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!
~Adolphe Adam

Gregory Boyle writes movingly about what it means for the soul to find its worth in his book Tattoos of the Heart.

The Welcoming Prayer
Welcome, welcome, welcome.
I welcome everything that comes to me today
because I know it’s for my healing.
I welcome all thoughts, feelings, emotions, persons,
situations, and conditions.
I let go of my desire for power and control.
I let go of my desire for affection, esteem,
approval and pleasure.
I let go of my desire for survival and security.
I let go of my desire to change any situation,
condition, person or myself.
I open to the love and presence of God and
God’s action within. Amen.
~Father Thomas Keating

That’s a lot to let go of all at once; it helps me to just focus on one or two of those things at a time.

Do you have a ritual for welcoming the dark?

Love,
Jessica