Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Walking Through the Valley

Some of the best descriptions of emotional disorders can be found in the Old Testament (which is not really very surprising).  When one reads of "a horror and a darkness" descending upon Abraham, or listens to Job groaning that "that which I have dreaded is come upon me," one feels a startling moment of sympathy with the suffering ones.  Sympathy is, after all, what makes for good literature.

Unlike Abraham or Job (nice guys, but unfortunate enough to be Jewish back when God was still bipolar), I seem to have little excuse for what seems to be an ever more crippling series of depressions.  I mean, life is pretty good -- job situation, relationship status, friendships; all seem to be far above the average in terms of the average human experience.  But it still just gets to me - the sense that there is no hope, that my life is a meaningless sham or farce, that I'm a fake and a phony destined to die unfulfilled and alone, with nothing but a retail salary, an unread blog and manuscripts, and student loan debt to my name.

Well that got heavy fast.

Anyways, it was during a night of such sleepless ponderings that I was forced to take action, and after making a melted cheese-and-chili tortilla (and following it with its sinfully delicious peanut-butter-and-honey twin), I broke out my little journal and my notepad and tried to duke it out with my "black dog" of depression the old fashioned way and remind myself of a few important truths.  Here is some of what I came up with...

Laughter, hope and love represent the greatest triumph of mankind over the cosmos.

Humans alone among all known species are capable of grasping the horrifying emptiness of the universe and the stark banality of existence; but humans alone among all species are capable of looking that darkness full in the face before filling it with beauty, companionship, love, laughter, fellowship and hope.

Part of being human is finding beauty in the darkness and hope in despair.

Life, like death, begins in the mind.  Some people are more fully alive on their death bed than the young, strong person taking care of them.  Others die many years or even decades before their body ceases to function.  True love means sharing this deeper life, and true hatred, evil, and cruelty mean withholding it.

What is real life and living?

It involves love; it involves seeing beyond the self.  It means companionship, humor, friendship, courage, honor, goodness, decency -- and all of these things for their own sake rather than for the approval of others.

Real death has nothing to do with age, and it has comparatively little to do with sickness.

True death involves fear, the end of possibilities, an utterly self-centered existence, cruelty, loneliness, grim austerity, the end of humor and the inability to laugh either at oneself or one's world -- in a word, death is despair.  The loss of hope and good spirits is true sickness and can kill.

Some of the greatest acts of kindness involve simply making another person laugh, or feel less alone for just a moment.  More lives have been saved this way than will ever be counted.

It is the capacity for this richer life and this darker death that allows humans to transcend the mundane and become more than mere animals or biological automatons.  This allows them to aspire to be gods and find glory, but it also permits them to aspire to be monsters and find everlasting shame.

Good and evil might exist in the human mind alone, but this doesn't devalue them; it makes them all the more powerful and important for existing above the level of mere biological necessity.

True heroism has nothing to do with muscles and guns and the slaying of dragons.  True heroism means decency for the sake of decency in the face of all that is frightening and horrible in the world.  Being a hero means living as a human being, despite the universe.  In this one can find a full life and a good life in any place and at any time.

There's an old passage that I came across a long time ago that ties it up pretty nicely:

"The life of man is a long march through the night, surrounded by invisible foes, tortured by weariness and pain, toiling towards a goal that few can hope to reach, and where none may tarry long.  One by one, as they march, our comrades vanish from our sight, seized by the silent orders of omnipotent death.  Very brief is the time in which we can help them, in which their happiness or misery is decided.  Be it ours to shed sunshine on their path, to lighten their sorrows by the balm of sympathy, to give them the pure joy of a never-tiring affection, to strengthen failing courage, to instill faith in hours of despair.  Let us not weigh in grudging scales their merits and demerits, but let us think only of their need -- of the sorrows, the difficulties, perhaps the blindnesses, that make the misery of their lives.  Let us remember that they are fellow sufferers in the same darkness, actors in the same tragedy with ourselves.  And so, when their day is over, when their good and their evil have become eternal by the immortality of the past, be it ours to feel that, where they suffered, where they failed, no deed of ours was the cause; but wherever a spark of the divine fire was kindled in their hearts, we were ready with encouragement, with sympathy, with brave words in which high courage glowed."
--Bertrand Russell

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