You’ve got to be careful, sometimes, when you’re a mental health clinician working with a team of mental health clinicians. People ask you how you’re doing and they actually want you to be truthful and to be thorough. My truthful answer is that I’m depressed. Pam’s been sick for a while (it will be a year in eleven days, on the eighteenth — if you happen to be keeping score at home); but I’ve only recently gotten depressed. I’ve been depressed for a couple of weeks now.
Just the same, though, I’ve got to watch what I say. When you tell a therapist you’re depressed, she or he is going to suggest therapy. Therapy? For me? Hmmmm. Well, I’m actually in the market for a therapist; but I’m not looking for a cure to my depression. It’s not just the fact that there is no cure for my kind of depression; it’s also the fact that depression is an essential part of the experience — and I’m ‘all in’ with this bit of business.
“No woman,” Bob Marley tells us, “no cry.” He’s right, too! Everything feels wrong, but it’s really all right. I’ve got to feel low. How could I have felt all this love, all this time, if I weren’t feeling low now? “The ones who mourn,” Jesus said, “are the happy ones. They’re the ones who’ll be comforted.” I’m comforted already. I can’t put my finger on the reason, but deep inside my soul I’m perfectly content with my life, with the way this life is, with the way life has always been, with the way life has to be.
I’m not asking ‘why?’ I’m not even curious. It’s enough to know what I do know. I know that this entire universe, and everything in it, is God’s self expression. People tell me I’m “a man of faith” and I am. I believe we’re all part of a Grand Design. Life is a glorious miracle, a masterpiece, and I want as much of it as I can take. The Flawless One decided to stretch out a canvas of imperfection. The Unchanging One placed Herself where She could be found in a world of relentless alteration. The One who was never born, and can never die; the One who is never sick or impaired and never grows old, that One, has set out to create a self portrait where life pulsates with the incomprehensible tragedy of mortality. Do you see the glory in that? I can’t imagine what could be more glorious. I see glory, and I see wonder as well, a wonder that leaves no room for ‘why?’.
And as for you, what about your losses? To what purpose did you suffer? I’m the one who’s suffering today; but by this time you ought to realize that my suffering is your suffering as well; and later, when you suffer, I’ll have my share of it. Suffering is suffering, there’s no owning it; but neither is there any disowning of it.
These aren’t opinions I’ve developed only recently. The necessity of inviting the bitter in with the sweet has been long obvious to me. If there were no sickness, how could there be healing? If there were no grief, how would we know consolation? If there were no sadness how would we ever, ever, ever learn to sing the blues?
Enough! That’s all the philosophy I can take right now. How about doing me a favor and allowing me to describe this depression I’ve been in? I can’t seem to get comfortable in my skin. I’m hollow inside, and hurting. Fortunately, at this point in my life, I have the strength of facade; I have a face to face the world with. I carry with me a lifetime of habit, and my habits are upbeat and cheerful. My habits carry me through my minutes and my hours. If I wore my heart on my sleeve I’d be an object of pity, and I’d hate that.
Pam freely admits that sleeping and weeping are the main features in her life. She sleeps though the night when I can’t. My nights are fitful. When I’m awake, I’m in pain and when I’m asleep I’m having nightmares. I hold her close to me when we’re in bed together and marvel at her warmth. It doesn’t seem possible, when I’m holding her in the darkness, that her brain could be harboring a tumor. In the daylight it makes perfect sense — I see the way she stumbles for balance, I see her fatigue and I see her the tears that never leave her eyes; but at night I just can’t get my head around it. She feels the same in my embrace as she ever did. When I told you that I’m “comforted already” I was thinking about my nights.
In the daylight hours I keep my eye on her and help her when she needs help. I’ve got the easy part of the deal. It’s easy to be the one giving the care, Pam has the job of requiring it. She’s the one with the tough job. She endures the humiliation of limitation, and her limitation never lets up. I, at least, get to leave the house. I get to have a life.
It’s a different story at night, though. At night I’m the one who’s weak, and I turn to her for strength. She’s right by my side, just as she’s been for twenty-three years, just as she’s always been. My daytime mind “gets it”. I know things are changing. My nighttime mind is clueless. When I hurt, and I hurt most of the time, I turn to the one I always turn to — and she’s always right there, just as she’s always been. I fully expect her to be by my side forever.
This morning, before Mass, I was speaking with our friend Molly. “You know,” she said, “having faith doesn’t mean everything always works out the way you like.” What could I say? I’m the last person who could give her an argument on that point. Her remark left me wondering. What does ‘having faith’ get me?
Faith assures me She’s here. God is in this world and, what’s more, this is the world God wants to be in. The Lemonade and Jelly Bean world where “everything always works out the way I like” has a lot going for it; but it doesn’t have God. If I lived there I’d never have faith, and I’d never want it. What good would faith do me if I lived there? Faith can’t give satisfaction when the object of your faith is absent.
The one I believe in is the One who’s in the soup with me. My suffering is God’s suffering (and yours, too, if you have faith to accept it). My pain is God’s pain. My heartache is a heartache shared. As Sting once commented, “I’m not alone in being alone.”
I may be living in a vale of tears, but I’m glad to be here — considering the company I get to keep.