For the next month or so, I want to write about the summers in my life. I have discerned that my depression is often at a low point during the summer, which could be connected to some “small-t traumas” I have experienced throughout my life during the summer. And yet, despite that, I know that I have had at least a few good summers. I have a hypothesis that the reason why some summers have been good is because I have “done the work” those years, spent some significant time working on my own spirit or mind. This summer has been pretty bleh so far, and I want to change that. So, for the month of August, I’m writing one blog entry for each summer in my life, beginning with 2018 and going backwards. Hopefully by exploring those summers in this way, I can find some meaning for my life now as well.
So, the summer of 2018. My initial memory of that summer was that it was a summer of writing, working hard on the manuscript that would eventually become my unpublished memoir, Darkwater. (Which, by the way, has finally reached a publisher who has shown some interest in it. I’m more hopeful now about its potential than I have been in quite a few months.) After checking out some journal entries from last year, I can actually see an unintended structure to that summer.
My summer began early, at the beginning of May. Normally I wouldn’t consider that to be summer yet, but I was on vacation, and the weather was exceedingly hot. I was at Holy Cross Monastery for a silent retreat. I intended to read Parker Palmer’s book The Promise of Paradox: A Celebration of Contradictions in the Christian Life, and journal about my reflections and thoughts. I found it to be challenging to keep myself to this discipline, partially because of the unseasonably warm temperatures, and the lack of air conditioning in my room at the monastery. But I found some insight there, nonetheless. A lot of what I took from the book involved seeing conflict and resistance, both from without and from within, not as a negative thing, but rather an expected and normal (if paradoxical) part of the spiritual journey. Among other things, I was able to take Palmer’s five-step process, and make a new interpretation of the Jonah story according to his paradox theory. As the story of Jonah has been my own story for so long, I found this to be deeply moving:
- RECOGNITION: Jonah realized that God wanted him to proclaim repentance, and potentially mercy, to Nineveh. Jonah couldn’t handle that – it was a contradiction with his beliefs and expectations.
- RESISTANCE: Jonah goes to Tarshish. The storm rises up.
- ACCEPTANCE: Jonah is swallowed by the whale. Within, he sings a song of thanksgiving.
- AFFIRMATION: Jonah rises again! Is given a new lease on life!
- LIBERATION: Jonah proclaims repentance, and ultimately mercy, to Nineveh.
And then it all started again, with Jonah being ticked off at God. So, the inner turmoil I often feel can be viewed as a normal part of spiritual growth, amplified by depression. I don’t need to run from it or give in to it. I can resist it, trusting that the actual act of resistance is what’s going to bring me through death into resurrection.
It was also at this retreat that I was able finally to write what I knew would be the hardest chapter of Darkwater to write, the story of the summer of 2016, the Reconciling in Christ struggle that led to my medical leave.
So the summer began. I have little record of what else occurred for most of that summer, other than writing Darkwater. Every day I spent at least an hour, sometimes more, editing chapters, adding chapters, rethinking structure, and so forth. I finished the first draft on July 21, at which point its working title was Chasing After Wind. I spent some time pondering just what that title meant. It’s a reference to Ecclesiastes, the existentialist book of the Old Testament, in which the writer bemoans the fact that everything in life is “vanity, a chasing after wind.” It’s all meaningless. I wondered what exactly I was saying by calling my book a vanity. And so the title changed. As much as I like that title, I think I’ll hold onto it for something else.
I know how the summer ended. I was on vacation again; I took a week off around Labor Day because my sister and her family were coming to visit over the weekend. On my days off prior to her arrival, I hunkered down and tried to get the book finished, so I could have the manuscript ready for submission by Labor Day. I spent some time walking and talking with Pete about the book, and it was on that day that I was given the opportunity to own the font where I was baptized. I took an unexpected trip to Schuylkill County and got the font, almost like a totem symbolizing the rightness of the Darkwater project. And I did get my first two submissions in by Labor Day.
This was a long summer, May to September, bracketed by a week of vacation on either end. The whole summer was an attempt to finish a project, and by the end, I had finished it. I don’t really know how my mood was throughout the summer, but I know that it was not wasted. It was a summer of hard work, the kind of work that paid off no matter what the future holds for Darkwater. I have the journals and the memories to prove that I did the work, and it provides hope that I can do it again. The summer of 2018 shows me that I can use the remainder of this summer to write this little project. I can connect; I can delve deep; I can find meaning even while chasing all this summer wind.