not alone


    On Christmas Eve, I was driving home from finishing my shopping when Ginger called to tell me to expect to see a man in our front yard raking leaves. We had lots of leaves. Tim had knocked on our door asking for work so he could have Christmas with his daughter. When I got home, I took him a bottle of water and wrote down his phone number for future reference. He was doing a great job. He’s been unemployed for two months and thought yard work might be a way to get back on his feet. He had a gentle manner and a sweet spirit. When I came back in, Ginger said, “Once he showed up it felt like Christmas.”

    A couple of hours later, I was in Harris Teeter (one of our local supermarkets) with Jay getting groceries for Christmas dinner. As I came to the end of the row, a man in a wheelchair turned to enter. We both stopped. I motioned for him to go ahead and he said, “Please, you first.” When I got even with him, I realized it was Reynolds Price, an author who has meant a great deal to me over the years, in particular for his books Three Gospels and A Serious Way of Wondering: The Ethics of Jesus Imagined. He smiled and I said, “Dr. Price?” He nodded and I continued, “My name is Milton Brash – actually that doesn’t matter. What I want to say is you have befriended me for many years through your books and I’m grateful.” He thanked me and we both went on our ways.

    Today I worked the lunch shift at the restaurant. Evan is one of the guys I work with. He is the Sous Chef, and another quiet and gentle guy. In small conversations over the past couple of weeks, I’ve learned he as a philosophy degree from college and couldn’t figure out what he wanted to do, so he started cooking, which he’s been doing for a decade. He’s often a man of few words, but as we were doing prep work today, he asked me how I started cooking in restaurants. I gave him the short version (or as short as I can tell it) of how I fell into a clinical depression after my treatment for sleep apnea unmasked it and how, after doing my best to just get out of bed and get through the day for about eighteen months, Ginger helped me get out of the house since I needed to make some money. I started driving around the South Shore of Massachusetts, looking for something I wanted to do. I got a part-time summer job as security at the South Shore Music Circus, which meant I got to hear good music for free, and I talked my way into a cooking job at a small restaurant that was just opening.

    I could see the resonance in his eyes when I mentioned I lived with depression. I could also see the connection when I said I had found the kitchen to be a depression free zone. However deep the gathering gloom, the light shines in the kitchen and the darkness can’t extinguish it. We talked about the theories we have of why it’s true: the very tactile, hands on work; the pace and busy-ness; the concentration required; the sense of accomplishment and the fairly immediate gratification in seeing your meal go out to those who came to eat; the sense of community that grows out of working together to make the place function well.

    A month ago, I’d never met these guys. (OK, I did go to a Reynolds Price book signing in Boston years ago, but I’d never met him in his natural habitat.) I know them now because I entered their world, not they mine – they were here first. I’m new to this orbit. Here’s how life gets colored in: through chance meetings, incidental contact, meaningful coincidence. And in some cases, souls stick to one another – even in small ways – and we create something that wasn’t there before. I can see the seedlings of friendship taking root in my conversations with Evan. I feel compelled to keep in contact with Tim. I find it interesting, therefore, that I thought it wasn’t important to tell Reynolds Price my name. I was aiming to bounce off of him like a billiard ball, I guess; I wasn’t trying to be friends. I didn’t want to impose.

    Friendships thrive on imposition, however, and give birth to good and unexpected things. In the summer of 2005, I met an old friend, Nancy, at the UCC Synod in Atlanta. The meeting was a surprise to us both since we had both been Baptists the last time we were around each other: she had been my pastor in Dallas. We found time to catch up and I learned she was a UCC pastor in Charlotte (at the home church of the associate pastor of our church here in Durham). She learned about my depression and my cooking and my trying to figure out a way to write. She responded by telling me about our friend Gordon’s blog, Real Live Preacher. I had never heard of a blog and I hadn’t talked to Gordon in a long time (our connections go way back as well), so I called to impose and learn. Thanks to his friendship and patience, don’t eat alone was born two years ago today.

    The blog has fed me much like the time I spend cooking because I’m writing regularly, I’m working on my writing, and I’m doing it in the context of community. Whether you are a commenter or not, that you are reading is another inextinguishable light in my darkness. My aim has been to write about one thousand words a day (except when I write poetry) and to write at least 250 posts a year, which means I’ve stacked up almost a half a million words in the past two years, writing at first in the cracks of my life and then learning how to carve out time and keep my promises to myself. In the incidental contact that comes through these web pages, I’ve seen some friendship seedlings take root as well, nourishing me in ways I had not expected.

    My depression has beaten me like a rented mule this past week. I’m hopeful it’s a seasonal thing rather than another long ride on the monster. However deep the darkness, I don’t eat alone and I don’t write alone: I am not alone.

    I am not alone.

    I know that tonight. I’m going to have to impose on you to keep reminding me.



    1. Most assuredly, you are not alone.

      I love what you said about the kitchen being a depression-free zone. Yes.

      And I gasped when you realized it was Reynolds Price! Very cool.

      Happy blogiversary, Milton.
      Happy New Year.

    2. Milton –

      Has it been only two years?! Reading your blog is one of the hightlights of my day and you’ve inspired me in so many ways. Thank you. You are soooo not alone.
      We have sacred harp singing in my part of th world – Tidewater, Va – and maybe we’ll find ourselves singing together some day. And I’ll get to say, “Mr. B-C, my name is Tom and ……”.

      (you do serve rockfish in that restaurant, don’t you?)

    3. Thanks for writing. It’s nice to be able to see how your doing. Durham sounds like such and adventure! But, I bet anywhere you go is an adventure.

      We still miss you and love you!!

      The Flemings

    4. Not alone.

      Your writing has truly inspired the way I look at scripture, at gospel, at discipleship. Many times it has given me just the perspective I have needed to preach.

      And…if I wasn’t on Weight Watchers, I would make every last one of your recipes!

      You are a blessing. Happy Blogiversary!

    5. Milton, this was the second blog I started reading, guided here by RLP. Thank you for allowing me to quietly follow your journery. And thank you for the hope and light and vision you share with us.

    6. I, too, have gotten it hard from depression / seasonal malaise/ whatever this past week (my Christmas Eve sermon was decidedly un-festive). Luther called it anfechtungen, also known as despair, and said it was one of the ways we are attacked most viciously in our faith. I’m glad to know that you and I both seem to be fighting out way out of that particular darkness. I’m happy to be yet another who’ve found you to be a good friend in this space. A happy New Year to you and Ginger.

    7. Indeed, you are not alone.

      Reading your blog has blessed me in more ways than I can count and has encouraged me in my own writing. The Holy Spirit speaks through you and I am grateful for your obedience in being used that way. In spite of the anonymous nature of the blogosphere, I count you as a friend and pray for peace and light for you as 2008 begins.

      Blessings from Virginia- Kelly

    8. You are not alone. You have company every day out here in Colorado. Thank you for being a shining light, your writing feeds my soul and occasionally my stomach. That pumpkin soup is fabulous.

      Happy New Year!

    9. Hmm. I’ve always seen my time in the kitchen as a measure of how I’m doing in battling the depression; i.e. an effect and not a cause. But I think you’re right – the act of planning, cooking, crafting is some of the best therapy I know.
      Today I bought a used Romertopf pot in the Pittsboro Habitat thrift store. Any suggestions?

    10. Dear Milton, You, of all people, will NEVER be alone. You are loved and cherished wherever you are. I am thankful for your blog because it keeps me close. Thank you for being faithful to it. Love Molly

    11. You are surrounded by blog friends, Milton! Keep on writing, your words feed more folks than you realize–they’re as nourishing as the food you cook.

      ps. Did you ever eat mandazis in Kenya? I’d love to see you post a recipe for them–used to buy them at dukas with my Nigerian roommate. I guess they might not be too healthy, but sure were yummy!

    12. You’re not alone, Milton. No one is. God is with us, we are with each other… but I’ve also struggled with deep feelings of loneliness, although not full-blown depression, and it’s just not easy sometimes. I like your reminder that the monsters can be our companions (thanks Annie Dillard, too), and I think that’s the only way I’m ever going to transition into this thing called ministry!

    13. Hi Milton!

      I have read your blog now and then (can’t even remember how I came across it, I was doing some sort of search–how blessed am I!), and haven’t felt compelled to comment until now.

      One thing I have learned in the past few years of exploring my spirituality and developing my faith is that I am never alone. All I have to do is ask, then open my eyes, and God puts people in my life when I need them. I think you have attracted certain people to to aid you on your journey (and maybe they have attracted you for whatever purpose you serve to them!)

      Anyway, I enjoy reading your posts. You are truly a blessing to this world and no, you are never alone. Thank you for sharing and for being so open and genuine.

      Love, Peace & Gratitude,

      Julie Hall
      Cocoa, Florida

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