For the next month or so, I am reflecting back on summers in my past, partially to discern why my depression tends to get worse in the summer, and partially as a project to get myself writing again. I’m thinking back on those days, seeing what I did and how I felt, and seeing what (if any) insight it can give me for today.
There’s a line from the sci-fi television show Babylon 5 that’s always stuck with me: “It’s easy to find something worth dying for. Do you have anything worth living for?” As I looked back through journal entries and blog posts from two years ago, it seems like that question was a major theme in my life.
The funny thing is, you’d think that that summer would have been amazing. I had spent the first three months of 2017 on a medical leave from my congregation, working closely with my therapist and my spiritual director, going on retreats and completing online courses, all in the service of improving my mental health. You can find a whole category of my blog devoted to that medical leave. I grew so much, and was so much better and calmer when I returned to work in April. But by the summer, I had crashed again. Not in the same way I’d done the year before. (Which I’ll talk about in the Summer of 2016 post soon.) But it was a crash nonetheless.
I wrote a poem in late May, entitled “I Know That You’re Here,” which was a letter to my depression, a letter of acceptance and resignation, in which I found that I was okay with it showing up again, because I knew that it would eventually pass. I had stopped fighting it, and was trying instead to weather the storm.
So the summer started with the acceptance of its return. But that acceptance turned to existential angst in June, triggered in part by the vote my congregation took to decide whether to become a Reconciling in Christ congregation, that is, one that explicitly and openly welcomed everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. The vote was incredibly close, but the motion was defeated, and we did not adopt a welcoming statement. My emotions about this took a while to fully manifest. I felt numb at first, but slowly more and more disheartened, and then despairing. What was the point of leading a congregation who thought laws were more important than love? What was the point of leading a congregation if years of preaching never made a difference? Over the course of the summer, I came to the conclusion that people simply don’t change their minds about anything. There was nothing I could say to change anyone. There was nothing anyone could say to change me. We’re all entrenched in what we believe, and no evidence, no persuasion, nothing, could change that. I never bothered preaching about race relations or gun control, despite the pleas from some of my colleagues, because I really felt (and still feel, if we’re honest) that nothing I could say would possibly make a difference. Those who want guns see the world one way; those who don’t see it the other. And nobody can change them.
So that was my primary mode of thought that summer, and it led to suicidal thoughts, but not the way you might think. The thought that nobody could change led me to thinking that there was no point in even talking to each other. Which led me to wonder if there was any point in doing anything at all. Which led me to wonder if there was any point in staying alive. Existentialist philospher Albert Camus expressed this as, “There is only one really serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Deciding whether or not life is worth living is to answer the fundamental question in philosophy. All other questions follow from that.” That’s where I was — staring into the existential maw, wondering if there was anything worth living for. I wasn’t really wishing for death. I had no plans to take my life. But I couldn’t answer Camus’ question.
I journaled for the whole month of July about “what’s the point?” I wrote that it’s so hard to find a reason to live, so how do I know if it’s worth the trouble? I wrote about the tension in regard to relationships with other people: we’re told not to worry about what others think of us; and yet, there is the African concept of ubuntu, which states that “I am because we are.” I only exist because we are a community together, and so my worth is intrinsically connected with the worth of the community. I read A Hidden Wholeness by Parker Palmer, and found that tension to be there as well — how can we be truly whole without others, and how can we be truly whole with them? (People: can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em.)
But then the summer ended with something unique and amazing, something I’d been planning for over a year, something that I’d never experienced before or since: I took my daughter to Hopkinsville, Kentucky to view a total solar eclipse. It was such a marvelous and mystical experience, and lasted all of three minutes. Yet the months of planning and thousands of dollars I’d put into this trip were all worth it, just for those three minutes. I’m not sure if I ever made this connection that summer or not, but it seems to me now that the eclipse was the answer.
It’s worth staying alive to see an eclipse. Right now, it’s worth staying alive to see if my book will be published. It’s worth staying alive to see my kids’ graduations. It’s worth staying alive to have that one conversation with someone that opens a new insight for both of us. A great deal of life is meaningless, and that’s okay. Even if it’s only filler between those moments of revelation, those moments make the filler worth it. And it’s worth planning them. It’s worth driving twelve hours for an eclipse. And if I pay attention, there are a lot of other things worth living for as well.