Angels of Mercy

graphite line drawingThere are a lot of distinguishing features that we associate with Goodness, in the general sense of that construct. There are the usual ethical and even moral qualities we impute to a person or action or event in our humanist or religious ways: honesty, justice, kindness, compassion, hospitality, wisdom, patience and other such characteristics are almost universally recognized as positive and admirable. And while we can sometimes recognize these things in our fellow mortals, many of us find it easier to represent them in our minds’ eyes as some kind of super-beings that transcend human limitations, because it’s hard to imagine much of this happening or being sustainable in the hands or lives of mere people.

So we have our superheroes and our faeries, our special agents and goddesses, avatars and angels. But we’re still either too limited in our mental vocabularies or perhaps simply a little bit too insecure and egocentric to imagine or depict much that is Good without giving it a recognizable hint or ten of humanness. We make our gods in our own image, unable to picture them as truly different enough from ourselves to be genuinely Other and unique. We need to feel a concrete connection if we’re to make any sense of our own ideals.

And there’s nothing wrong with that, to my mind. How can I talk about the sweetness of a ripe pear with someone who has no sense of smell or taste? What it feels like to stand mid-stream in an icy creek with someone who has no legs or is a lifelong quadriplegic? How could I hope to discuss a complex topic with a deaf person from another country? We have to have some little commonalities, at least ones that we perceive as such, for us to have any kind of relationship, including the philosophical or emotional or spiritual.

So we, thankfully, have our Helpers, our unseen supporters and caretakers and watchers and guides, and we give them features that help us to understand and trust them. The other day when I was drawing I was thinking of a friend who, as I write this, is undergoing cancer treatment. Many friends and relatives and acquaintances have done so in times past, and many will yet again, and I think of them in their times of need and send, in my own way, my love and hope and concern, but most of them cannot use anything tangible that I have to offer. I think for cancer patients, my versions of angels would most certainly be beautifully smooth-headed creatures.

I am no surgeon, healer, scientist, caregiver or therapist of any sort. If you live close enough you might get some homemade chicken soup from me, or an armful of flowers from my home meadow, or a little note, but I have no cure to offer, have not even enough encouraging wisdom of my own to get you through the day better. What I do have is my own vision of what I would hope to have at my bedside or hovering around me as I tread any dangerous paths, a sort of gracious, singing, laughing and–when I need a modest and quiet companion who understands the sorrow of it all–gently embracing angel of mercy. And my particular versions of such beings work in force, and also make house calls, so I will gladly send regiments of them in all their shining, vaguely human, terribly purposeful Goodness to watch over all.digital illustration

Nobody Loves Me, Everybody Hates Me . . . *

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. . . Think I’m Gonna Go Eat Worms! [Note: no actual worms were harmed in the making of this photograph.]

Yes, it may be true that no man is an island–we all depend on others far more than we even recognize or comprehend–but conversely, every one of us is his or her own unique and seemingly isolated version of Three Mile Island at times when it comes to having personal meltdowns. It starts right at birth, when most of us scream and complain at having been removed from that ever-so-pleasant resort and spa, Mom’s innards, and ejected unwittingly and unwillingly into the cold, cruel world, and it continues, however sporadically, throughout our lives. We are such fragile creatures.

The majority of humans, happily, are not subject to this dark reality for too large a percentage of our lives, but it’s more common than is commonly discussed that we have trials, tribulations and the varying degrees of inability to cope with them that make us question, if not our sanity, then certainly our ability to rise above what’s bad, get a grasp on the good, and move forward regardless of feeling worthy or curable. Depression truly sucks–not just in the vernacular, but in the sense of pulling one down into a bottomless abyss like an evil and irresistible vortex.

I’m not referring, of course, to ordinary grief or sadness. We all get hit by those monsters at times. We flounder, we suffer, we recover. It may be deep and painful and take a long time to rebound from sorrows of even the most normal sort, but we do, eventually, learn how to go on living and being and take part in the doings of the world. Generally, that sort of difficulty or tragedy even tends to gradually heighten the sense and appreciation of what is good and joyful once we’ve experienced and survived the dark and can see the shining contrast of even a modest pleasure with what appeared insurmountably grim from its midst. True clinical, chemical, physiological depression, well, that’s a different thing.

It resists the most persuasive and intelligent logic. It batters self-worth and love in the most brilliant, gifted and accomplished sufferers. It tears at relationships of any sort with other people or with action, with one’s wit and will to survive. If it doesn’t make one outright, actively suicidal, it can simply kill through atrophy and attrition: sufferers have described the state of longing intensely to kill themselves but having no strength or energy to do so.

Why would I talk of such dire and dreary and horrid stuff, even think of it at all? Because I am reminded sometimes of when I used to be there. My worst bout of depression was perhaps aided and abetted by various situational and temporal aggravations, including the typical catalysts and intensifiers of real-world health and happiness threats: the onset of my spasmodic dysphonia, job problems, the murder of our good friend. These were of course widely different in intensity and timing, but to someone like me, their interaction with my evidently wonky endocrine system or whatever combined forces of chemical and biological imbalance were building in me meant that when I hit bottom, no amount of thoughtful and heartfelt reasoning with myself could ‘fix’ me or my situation.

I am one of the true Lucky Ones. I finally felt so brain-fogged, so unable to resist the pull of that deadly sucking, enervating, soul-destroying feeling of pointlessness and ugliness and being unlovable and incapable of doing anything meaningful or good–well, I got so needy that I actually let others help me. That was it. The only way out of the hole was to grip the hands reaching in toward me and let them do all of the work of pulling me out. Part of it was accepting these helpers’ assurances that they did indeed believe in me and in how I felt, that they loved me and knew that I had worth and potential. Part was letting others lead me around and taking their advice and simply letting go of what little shreds of ego I had left enough to say that I would do better in following an educated and experienced prescription for improvement than I’d been doing on my ever-weakening own two feet. And a part that was essential for me was loosening my grip on my insistence that taking prescribed treatment–both psychological and chemical–without trying to create or control it myself was a sign of weakness or failure. It took, in fact, all of my strength and intelligence to recognize that any strength and intelligence I had couldn’t save me.

The luck involved is clearly that together we (my caregivers–medical and personal–and I) did find the combination of therapeutic treatments, behavioral changes and chemical re-balancing medication that not only unlocked my present emergency state of depressive existence but ultimately proved to let me feel fully, wholly myself for the first time in my life. I know that this is not a cure but an ongoing process for as long as I live. And, having lived both ways, I am more than happy to take on that responsibility. It’s a privilege.

What’s most beautiful of all, for me, is that when it happens (as it has in this last couple of weeks) that several occurrences and situations conspire to remind me of this my past and how it shaped my present life and self, it also reawakens in me the profound gratitude for all of those complex minutiae that converged so miraculously well as to make this life possible. To make my continued existence at all possible, perhaps, but particularly such a happy me. What seemed like the most disastrous and irreparable of confluences instead conspired to make just the right blend at the right moment that finally offered me a rescue.

Turns out that eating worms is the very nourishment that makes some birds healthy enough to sing their hearts out with the pure delight of existing. Last week I was out walking and saw a ditch full of drowned worms, lured into and killed by stormy waters. This week I was walking the same route and the sky was filled with the most spectacular warbling, chirruping, musical bird songs I could hope to hear. Coincidence? Very possibly not.digital illustration from a photo

(* from the old campfire song Nobody Loves Me, Everybody Hates Me . . . )