I Know That You’re Here (poem)

I know that you’re here. I feel you in the air.
The frost in the trees. The taste in my hair.
I know you’ve come back. You fool me no more.
I know what you smell like. I know what you’re for.

I feel depression crawling, clawing back to play.
I feel my eyesight change, from vividness to grey.
I feel the sleepy, creepy cold that coffee cannot slake.
I feel the touchy, tetchy mold that makes my brain cells ache.

I will give in. I choose not to pretend you’re gone.
I will give in. I acknowledge the control trip that you’re on.
I recognize my weakness, and I recognize your skill
You suck away my stamina and drink away my will

But I will not give up; giving up ain’t giving in.
I will not give up. This ain’t a game you’ll win.
I know that you’re here, and I’ll play on tonight,
But soon you will vanish, drift out of my sight.

So I pray for forbearance as I wait through the dark.
I seek now the patience of Noah on his ark.
The storm will soon end, and I will emerge.
For now I will nap, and just write this dirge.


It’s Hard (Poem)

It’s hard to hear all the anger
It’s hard to live with the strife
It’s hard to learn that conflict and hatred
Are the backdrop for living this life

It’s hard to talk with each other
It’s so hard to listen and hear
It’s hard when the very thought of someone
Can paint your emotions with fear

It’s hard to trust in the process
It’s hard to remember God’s promise
It’s hard to believe that divine light shines
From people who show forth no oneness

It’s hard to let go of harsh words
It’s so hard to hold onto patience
And it’s tragic how hard it always becomes
To hold on to kind affirmations

Anyone who told us that life would be easy
Was a fool or a liar at best
But why is it we all, no matter how privileged
Feel like we’re being oppressed


Thirty Minutes

Waiting and watching
I am watching myself twist and gyre
I am waiting for the calm to come
A headache cries for a cure
My brain is pulsing and throbbing
Pop the two orange pills and wait…
In thirty minutes the peace arrives as the blood vessels release
Or whatever. Biology’s not my field.

But this today is no headache
A mind-ache perhaps or a soul-ache
The constriction different,
But no less real.
The cure less pharmaceutical,
But no less real.
An hour of yoga
A quarter of meditation
Or perhaps a few dozen lines of verse
Are healing.

Or so I want to believe

There are thoughts that subside into oceans of emotion
And feelings that glom into dread
There are monsters awake in the doldrums and neurons
I’m never alone in my head

I am nobody’s keeper —
— I am not responsible for their feelings
Yet I am the keeper of the monsters —
— I can tell them to sit down, be still
And I shall

There are two sorts of communities in my life:
The people without and the people within.
I am the keeper of the inside people
The monsters on the catwalk
The voices in the dark
They scold me
They call me
They think they make me
They don’t. I shall speak. And they shall listen.

But the outside people:
Their feelings are their own,
Their worries and fears
I will not take that blame
I will not own their pain
I am not their keeper
I will allow them their truth their meaning their hurt their joy their opinion their brilliance their stupidity
It’s not mine

And I will try, try to love them
Within and without

Has it been thirty minutes so soon?

Hidden in Christ #2: The Sermon

As I said in my last post, this is one of a series of posts I’ll be writing in the next few days about a retreat I attended at Holy Cross Monastery in West Park, NY on March 3-5, 2017. The theme of the retreat was “Living Hidden in Christ with God,” a reference to Colossians 3:1-4. I can’t talk about it all in a single blog post, because there was just so much. It was an incredibly powerful weekend for me, and I think that it will take several blog posts to unpack it.

Sunday’s sermon contained a very powerful image. It was the First Sunday in Lent; the gospel reading was Matthew 4:1-11, the story of Jesus’ Temptation in the Wilderness. The preacher began by talking about lanyards, and remarked about how she learned how to make them when she was young and at camp, about many lanyards she made in her childhood, and how useless they all were. Then she read an excerpt from a poem called “The Lanyard” by Billy Collins, in which he describes the lanyard he made at camp as a gift for his mother:

She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted teaspoons of medicine to my lips,
set cold facecloths on my forehead
then led me out into the airy light
and taught me to walk and swim and I in turn presented her with a lanyard.
‘Here are thousands of meals’ she said,
‘and here is clothing and a good education.’
‘And here is your lanyard,’ I replied,
‘which I made with a little help from a counselor.’
‘Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth and two clear eyes to read the world.’ she whispered.
‘And here,’ I said, ‘is the lanyard I made at camp.’
‘And here,’ I wish to say to her now,
‘is a smaller gift. Not the archaic truth,
that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took the two-toned lanyard from my hands,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless worthless thing I wove out of boredom
would be enough to make us even.’

And then, this preacher did a wonderful thing. She said (something like) this:

“We are now in the season of Lent, the time when people who follow Christ all around the world spend our time making lanyards for God.”

I don’t recall the details from the rest of her sermon. But this image sticks with me. The idea that all of the acts of piety we do, all of the things we give up, the things we add, the acts of charity and fasting and prayer and self-negation, all of these things are no more than a lanyard to God. Nothing we do can compare, nothing can even come close, nothing can even be in the same cosmos, as what God has done for us. And so our acts of piety are good, but not if we think they’re “evening the score” with God, or that God is impressed by them.


Featured image: By TheBendster (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Snapshots of My Depression #5: The Poem in the Wallet

A big part of my depression has always involved a feeling that I was hurting others, that I was thoughtless, self-centered, and incapable of changing. There were many times, particularly in high school, that I felt this so strongly that I had suicidal ideation. I remember thinking that that made me a unique sort of suicide. In my mind, I wasn’t considering ending my life for the “normal” reason, but for this more noble reason. I thought that the “normal” reason for attempting suicide was because you didn’t feel you could handle life anymore. It was a way to cope with extreme sorrow or extreme pain. But my suicide thoughts were higher than that…mine were more about helping the world escape me. I thought it was a noble sacrifice. Of course, as I’ve come to understand, my suicidal thoughts weren’t about that at all. They were exactly the same as what I identified as “normal” suicidal thoughts. They were all about escaping pain. I felt great pain inside when I thought I had hurt others. I felt great pain inside when I thought I should have known better. I felt such pain that I couldn’t see any escape from that pain, and the best way to cope would be to run away from it so far that I would be dead.

The website metanoia.org/suicide (the first result on a Google search for suicide, and what other credential does it need, really?) says this: “Suicide is not chosen; it happens when pain exceeds resources for coping with pain.” I believe that’s true. People who say that suicide victims are selfish have no idea what it’s like. Yes, some people can be equally sad, depressed, and despairing, and never attempt suicide. But those people likely had a different set of coping resources. It’s not selfish, it’s not a lack of faith; it’s simple math. If Pain > Resources, then Suicide > Life.

But I was talking about high school. There were still many years until I’d understand that. Just as there was no world wide web yet, and no metanoia.org yet, neither did I have the coping resources then that I have now. Back in high school, it went more like this:

What is the point of living
If your life is spent
Ruining the lives of others?
Would it not be a
Far, far better thing
If you were dead?
Oh, some may feel pain at the loss
But would that pain not pale in comparison
To the pain your continued life
Would continue to inflict
On still others?
Perhaps the answer is to change
But change is not always possible
We can not change our very being
We are what we are.
But in those brief moments of enlightenment
When we are permitted to see ourselves
We are not always satisfied.
If we realize that the change can not come
Because the brief moments are so brief
And the enlightenment never lasts
Never lasts long enough to change,
When these moments occur
Should we not take immediate action
Before the enlightenment is gone?
Change may be better than death
But is not death better than stagnation?
                                            MJS 3/29/93

I was a senior in high school. I wrote that poem on a sheet of looseleaf, and carried it in my wallet, as a reminder. I wrote it during a moment of “enlightenment.” Moments of enlightenment were the moments when I hated myself, and I called them “enlightenment” because in those moments, I felt a clarity so different from the confusion of my everyday life. In that clarity, it was so obvious to me that I was broken. That I was wrong. That I was, on balance, doing more evil than good. And I carried this poem with me as a reminder of that. A reminder to my everyday self that I knew better. But moreso, a reminder to myself during the next moment of enlightenment, as encouragement to have the courage to follow through with a suicide plan. Because I was always so scared of committing suicide. I could never slit my wrists, because I was too scared of pain. I could never sit in my parents’ garage with the cars running, because I was too scared that I would be found there before it was complete. I thought this poem might just help me gain the courage to knew what I believed was right.

I still have the original looseleaf page with this poem on it. I found it tonight in a closet, tucked in a folder marked “Miscellaneous.” I’m not sure if I’ve ever shared it with anyone before. Maybe one or two people, but certainly not many. Reading it now, I’m surprised at how well it’s written. I’m surprised at the Tale of Two Cities reference in it, although I do recall reading that book in 12th grade English. I’m surprised at how subtle and calm it is. There’s a recognition that people would miss me, that my death would be mourned, but an argument that that pain is less than the pain my continued existence would cause. I’m surprised at how suicide really seems to him to be a rational last resort, a resort to be taken because nothing else seems to work. I’m also surprised to find that these exact same thoughts still sit comfortably on their throne in my mind. They are still there, and I believe they will never leave me. But now Resources > Pain, and I can withstand them better. Suicide is no longer on the horizon for me, but the Voice has never changed.