3 min

Reflections on melancholia

Counting blessings in spite of hardship

So much I want to say, and so unable to say it. So sad, and yet feeling so self-indulgent for that sadness. So empty of feelings of comfort, and so full of blurred feelings of despair. Arguably so blessed for being alive, for being healthy, for being beloved, for being in a lovely city in a lovely land, and yet feeling so alienated, isolated and anything but blessed. And it is a state that is bound to define, at least in part, what Douglas calls life.

A scenario of melancholy: unbidden, unwanted and obdurate; a state of mind that confounds witch and wizard, priest and prioress, psychiatrist and psychologist; none able to provide a formula or cure that will open and equip the creative, musical, able-bodied, effervescent man who cohabits this flesh.

To put this reality, this experience of life, in some framework of meaning is a bleak challenge. Emptiness. Empty days can and do bring a debilitating sadness that weighs down the spirit and rests heavily upon the soul.

As a preacher, a person steeped in Biblical imagery and stories, I suppose it isn’t surprising that words from sacred script come to mind as I write these words. Consider the opening verses of the Book of Lamentations:

“How lonely sits the city that once was full of people! How like a widow she has become, she that was great among the nations! She that was a princess among the provinces has become a slave. She weeps bitterly in the night, with tears on her cheeks.”

These words echo the bitterness of a people struggling for meaning and purpose after their city was conquered, their women raped, their children orphaned or left to starve, and any sense of safe-place gone; all frailties left exposed to whatever whim or torment the aggressor may choose to inflict next.

It’s the ache of my absent beloved that lies beneath much of today’s deep melancholy, and the apparent hopelessness of us ever finding the trail that will take us through the delicate terrain of a shared love.

The pain then deepens as memories of profound intimacy come to the fore: times of cycling together in silence, of watching shooting stars and sunsets over Long Beach and English Bay, of delighting in Bach and Tanabe and Evora. These happy times of the past live co-terminus with the grief felt at his absence and the imminent death of shared love. And so I wail: “Oh, my darling beloved, my beloved, where are you? Where have you gone? Why can we not find peace and well-being with each other.”

And yet….

And yet… Amid this time of emptiness, of apparent meaningless living, some things have happened. There also exist mundane but nurturing realities in my day. Even some joys have become, and will remain, a part of my life.

There is Richard, my new friend, my delightful companion and soul mate, who shares so much of common memory.

And there are my children–weekly contacts, long and loving phone calls, and a genuine interest in my well-being and their successes–each so real, and each such a gift to their papa.

There are my doctors, constants of compassion and care.

And there is my writing. Finally, after years of contemplating taking a creative writing course and always deferring, finally, I am doing it, learning from it, and growing and moving toward healing in the heavenly, creative, arduous task of putting pen to paper and finding thoughts come alive, whether in pain or in joy.

And there is Claire, teacher, storyteller, caring, questing soul and my mentor; always alive with hope that she will be a catalyst to the birth of the artist within us.

Do I end this piece here on a bright note of delight? Are these wondrous elements of my recent life the last word in this day’s story?

No, for the pain of the first remains. Its presence will not be refused and cannot be dismissed as the mumblings of a melancholic gay male. The pain of this day is a given and remains.

In the myth I lived with and preached about for decades, the Jesus story, the resurrected Christ bore the horrid marks of crucifixion on hands, feet and side even when his presence brought courage and life to the dispirited band of followers who carried the grief of his death only three days before.

Thus it is in life. Thus it is in my life. And thus it is in my life this week, this day, this hour. The desolation will come unbidden again at tomorrow’s dawning, the sadness, emptiness and search for meaning where there is no meaning. But so will Richard, so will my children, my writing, and my searching. And in this unwieldy mix of pain and delight, my life’s journey will continue. And… hesitantly…but honestly… I can give thanks that all this comes to me and brings my senses to life–to new life–and to my ongoing, wounded resurrection.