I have joined the autumnal club of retirement in which I am still a mere stripling, my leaves just starting to turn. Even so, my life is now subject to impromptu grunts and groans as bits of me approach their sell by date, seemingly quicker than other bits. Picking things up or sitting down, it’s easier to let the spontaneous grunt out than not, though quite how that helps I have no idea.
Some things inside, though, are changing dramatically and deserve special mention. The landscape of my internal world has changed spectacularly.
Growing up, there were things that I took on board as my life developed. Leaving school, getting a job, developing a career, meeting someone and marrying, finding places to live, having children, raising them, having nervous breakdowns and a lot of stuff and nonsense on the way… There was lots of it and it was complex, demanding and absorbing.
At 69, it’s all done. Some of it remains in place, but still essentially done. No longer aspirations or desires.
I am content to be on my own now, having learnt to deal with loneliness many years ago, and untroubled by the busyness of life that continues around me at one step removed.
Inside my forward vision has slowed to almost a standstill. It’s still there, but I am not engaged with it any more other than knowing I am closing in on the end. My attention is engaged in the present and increasingly in the past, with vibrant memories that are dear to me now, even the dark and difficult times that have done so much to shape me.
Like the autumn we see in nature, my internal colours are now much brighter and more varied. Everything is coloured by a life times experience, and I like what I see and increasingly feel. Love is richer, caring is sweeter, kindness is essential, conversations go deeper, my connection to and with nature is such that I no longer feel an unconnected being, rather, I am part of the flow of nature and indivisible from it.
A saying has grown inside me for many years to become almost a mantra – ‘There is beauty yet’.
That’s what matters now, because this life we have, this dearest of natures gifts to each and every one of us, is breathtakingly awesome. I’ve not always seen it or understood it and even once attempted to end it. But it is a thing of beauty and wonder, seemingly out of nowhere, through tiny eggs and seeds combining to make each and every one of us living beings.
And the little flame of passion that has lived inside me all my life is now a great fire and to live passionately and vibrantly is beautiful.
I lost half my life to depression, an unforgiving, brutal, task master that brooked no rivals. An ever present, demanding darkness that was painful in the extreme.
Until I learned a thing. Until I learnt that depression is a warning. It’s like a traffic light and when it goes red, something is very wrong forcing the claxon of depression to sound off. Loudly!
There isn’t room to put even a fraction of all that I’ve learnt from depression, but there are a few things worth mentioning. For me, depression was a warning that my being was occluded, some vital part of me lost and screaming for my attention. It is also true, that choosing to look into the occlusion to discover its symptoms and its cause, involved some of the greatest, naked and eviscerating, psychological pain I’ve ever known.
For me the occlusion came in childhood, and finding and healing that lost child has taken much of my life.
Depression can come from many places and strike for a multiplicity of reasons, but for existential depression, there is always a triggering event or set of circumstances. I cannot claim to speak for all depression, but I am an expert on my own existential depression, and have developed a prodigious set of tools to deal with it and even having that tool box, the tools forged with my own hands (with some awesome assistance), is a source of comfort and strength. It’s like the opening of Simon and Garfunkle’s, ‘Sound of silence’, “Hello darkness, my old friend I’ve come to talk with you again.”
We’ve had some profound conversations! And always, always, there was some hurt hiding away, locked behind doors, hidden by grief, awaiting my attention and the space to touch it, feel it and live through the depth and expression of sorrow, to emerge from the chrysalis into sunlight once more, or even and especially for the first time.
The greatest oppressive and catastrophic occlusion was to the beauty of life itself. It’s not hard to see in this world, we’re battling the occlusion of life all the time. It’s not just inside us, we’re surrounded by it and it’s most visible in some of the inhumane reactions to the coronavirus that have dominated the news and social media recently, not least from the government.
But why do I care? What is the source of the outrage I feel, the abhorrence, the disgust (the danger of depression)?
I care because it offends against life. That’s the bottom line. It is an insult to this glorious wonder that is life. Worse, it drags life down, tarnishing its beauty, like a punch in the soul.
There is life even in rage and abhorrence. I’ll take the hit, feel the pain, and I’ll survive it to live and love on.
The words, ‘There is beauty yet’, are enough to make me stop and consider how to fight, and how to conduct it, because not fighting when life is threatened by cruelty, abuse, greed and so on, is unthinkable.
There is literally nothing more beautiful than life itself.
There I rest, there is my peace, there is the entire meaning of my life.
Here there is beauty, brightest in autumn, with the gorgeous sun of a lifetimes experience shining on it.
The very thing that makes me a useless eater in the eyes of some, is the very thing that is most precious. I am not living to work to earn a meagre crust or chasing rainbows of ambition any more, I am living to live this beautiful adventure that is second to nothing, life.
It’s great to be vibrantly and truly alive.
Keith Ordinary Guy. 28 March 2020.