~Percy Bysshe Shelley
our spring long spent
and now we come upon
a time of subtle beauty,
of hue and harmony,
a solemn serenity
by the clamor of summer.
a curtain of grace
cloaking and comforting,
readying us for winter.
How might I appreciate something
that is such a constant,
like my next heart beat or
breathing my next breath,
so unquestioningly predictable
it never registers
in my consciousness
until the moment
it might be rent asunder,
as delicate as a shattered web
hanging heavy with morning frost?
In knowing it will be someday lost,
my lungs emptied and heart stilled,
comes the realization:
the air I rely on
for my very existence
is the most precious gift of all.
For that ephemeral knowledge
of my fragility on this earth,
in learning that I love
my utter dependency on my Maker
who gifts me my next breath,
I am truly and forever
No more walks in the wood;
This is the aftermath
Of afternoons in the clover
Fields where we once made love
Then wandered home together
Where the trees arched above,
Where we made our own weather
When branches were the sky.
Now they are gone for good,
And you, for ill, and I
Am only a passer-by.
We and the trees and the way
Back from the fields of play
Lasted as long as we could.
No more walks in the wood.
~John Hollander “An Old Fashioned Song”
Some crumple in air, fall. Some stagger, recover control,
Then take the last glide for a far glint of water. None
Knows what has happened. Now, today, watching
How tirelessly V upon V arrows the season’s logic,
Do I know my own story? At least, they know
When the hour comes for the great wing-beat. Sky-strider,
Star-strider–they rise, and the imperial utterance,
Which cries out for distance, quivers in the wheeling sky.
That much they know, and in their nature know
The path of pathlessness, with all the joy
Of destiny fulfilling its own name.
I have know time and distance, but not why I am here.
Path of logic, path of folly, all
The same–and I stand, my face lifted now skyward,
Hearing the high beat, my arms outstretched in the tingling
Process of transformation, and soon tough legs,
With folded feet, trail in the sounding vacuum of passage,
And my heart is impacted with a fierce impulse
To unwordable utterance–
Toward sunset, at a great height.
~Robert Penn Warren “Heart of Autumn”
I wish I could be as sure as the geese overhead
who trust where they are led
is where they belong.
They may not make it there
but nevertheless go.
I wish I might fly into the setting sun
on a path of pathlessness
knowing only that I am sent
because the call is stronger
than I am.
It is…the refusal to take the oath of loyalty to life…
The man who kills a man kills a man.
The man who kills himself kills all men.
As far as he is concerned, he wipes out the world.
~ G.K. Chesterton
Suicide rates globally have climbed 60% in the past forty years,
particularly in developed countries.
Based on the distress of the patients I see every day,
the easy contemplation of suicide,
if only a passive “I wish I were dead”,
there will be no slowing of this trend.
…when there is no sense of loyalty to life, as stressful and messy as it can be,
…when there is no honoring of the holiness of the created being,
…when there is no resistance to the buffeting winds of life,
only a toppling over, taking out everything and everyone in the way,
…the world is wiped out, all people killed in one act of self-murder.
This wasn’t just plain terrible,
this was fancy terrible.
This was terrible with raisins in it.
More and more of my clinic time is devoted to evaluation and treatment of depression and anxiety rather than sore throats, coughs, UTIs and sprains/strains. An outbreak of overwhelming misery is climbing to epidemic proportions in our society. A majority of the patients who are coming in for mental health assessment are at the point where their symptoms are interfering with nearly every aspect of their daily activities and they can no longer cope. Their relationships are disintegrating, their work/school responsibilities are suffering, they are alarmingly self-medicating with alcohol, marijuana and pornography or whatever seems to give momentary relief. Suicidal ideation has become common, almost normative, certainly no longer rare.
Things seem terrible. And not just plain terrible. First-world-problem-terrible with raisins in it.
We have lost all perspective about terrible.
Terrible is what happened to the Philippine people in the midst of the most horrific typhoon this month –losing everything from their lives to shelter to any means to stay warm, fed and secure, much less find medical care.
Terrible is what happens in numerous countries where political oppression sends refugees across hundreds of miles and borders to seek asylum in foreign lands.
Terrible is what happens when hundreds of thousands are dying from AIDs, leaving behind their infected orphans to fend for themselves and care for each other.
Terrible is trafficking of human beings for power, gratification and money.
There is plenty of just plain terrible and most of us have no clue what it feels like. We are so absorbed in our own scratches from the ubiquitous thorns of life, grousing about the raisins that pop up in our own version of terrible, oblivious to the relative comfort with which we are graced daily compared to most of the world’s population.
Sometimes I think the best treatment for anxiety and depression has little to do with correcting brain chemistry or getting to the right cognitive behavioral insights to beat back negative thoughts, but rather to spend a year digging wells and latrines for those who have never used one. It is spending hours caring for the detoxing or the dying to see what misery really looks like. It is understanding how the fight for basic survival after an earthquake, a hurricane, a typhoon, a flood, a tsunami, makes life even more precious, rather than thrown away as if it is something you can simply upgrade or exchange for a new version.
Maybe, just maybe, when we reach in deeply, even sustaining the scars that come with everyday living, we can look past the thorns to the fruit. We may bleed getting to it. Maybe then the raisins don’t seem quite so terrible after all.
Yea, I have looked, and seen November there;
The changeless seal of change it seemed to be,
Fair death of things that, living once, were fair;
Bright sign of loneliness too great for me,
Strange image of the dread eternity,
In whose void patience how can these have part,
These outstretched feverish hands, this restless heart?
~William Morris, “November”