When the room gets too dark to see, the best thing I can do is stack up the words of others so I can climb up to look out the window for little flickers of light. In these days when I’m daunted by books, I’m even more grateful for poems. Small as they are, they stack up big; a few choice words well placed make the light easier to find.
Driving west tonight, the city dissolves behind us.
I keep feeling we’re going farther than we’re going,
a journey that started in the deep inkwell
out of which all our days are written.
Nothing is said to indicate a monument,
yet I perch on the edge of some new light.
The hills could crack open and a pointed beam,
like the beams on miner’s hats, could pick us off this road.
Signals blinking, we arrive in a bright room
of greetings and hands. But when the stories spill,
I feel myself floating off alone into the night we just left,
that cool black bag of darkness, where black deer
nibbled invisible grasses and black fences divided one thing
from the next. A voice in my earliest ears not this, not this
and the lit windows of childhood rise up,
the windows of houses where strangers lived,
light slanting across black roads,
that light which said what a small flicker is given
to each of us to know. For seconds I dreamed their rooms
and tables, was comforted by promise of a billion other lives.
Like stars. Like knowing the Milky Way
is made of more stars than any naked eye can count.
Like having someplace to go when your glowing restlessness
lifts you out of rooms, becomes a wing,
takes you farther than you will have traveled
when your own life ends.
Sometimes Ginger and I walk down to the beach at night. We are fortunate to live far enough away from the primary sources of ambient light in our area to be able to see lots of stars. There is a row of large houses along the sea wall, most of which are only inhabited in the summer time. I get frustrated when we get to the beach and one or two of the houses have left their outside spotlights on, washing out my view of the stars. I don’t always want more light. They have their reasons for the lights being on; I have my reasons for wanting them off. Neither of us is particularly concerned about the other.
The earliest helpful definition of depression I remember being helpful defined it as “anger turned inward.” Over the years I’ve come to understand turning inward is the primary motion of depression, regardless of what is turning. Whatever depression is, it is overarchingly self-focused. Part of that comes, I think, from not having the energy to look out and from seriously needing help without always knowing how to ask for it. But the lie is that there is no energy. It’s there. Since it can’t get out, it bores deeper into the darkness inside, pulling everything with it like an emotional black hole. As the depth of the darkness increases, so does the call to stack up whatever I can find so I can keep looking out the window – outside of myself – for lights from other windows to pierce my darkness and help me see something else.
Gracie woke me about six-fifteen this morning and I came downstairs with the pups so Ginger could sleep a bit longer. I let them out and fed them and, after a few tosses of various toys, Gracie and Lola were ready to sleep again. I was awake with only infomercials, music videos, Walker: Texas Ranger, and the news channels to keep me company. Though most of the news outlets were talking about Lebanon, all they were talking about was us. The reporter on MSNBC asked someone from the State Department who was working with evacuating Americans, “How long before you will be able to get all the innocent people out?” She was speaking only about the Americans, as if all the Lebanese were not innocent.
I could not ask for a better example of the destructive power of a self-focused life. The battle raging in the Middle East is not about us, no matter how hard we try to make it so. As long as we insist on making ourselves at the center of attention, we will not be a part of bringing any kind of redemption to the situation.
I’m working hard to take those words to heart in my own life. I’m depressed and struggling. In comparison with life in Beirut, my struggle hardly registers. Both things are true. The only life I can live is my own. I am not the center of things.
I need light from other windows.