We’re so used to running from discomfort,
and we’re so predictable. If we don’t like it,
we strike out at someone or beat up on ourselves.
We want to have security and certainty of some
kind when actually we have no ground to stand
on at all. (When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chodron)
In the excitement of realizing what seemed like so many dreams at once, I did not think much of what was to come, so I felt no fear. When friends would say, “You are so brave”, I would answer, “In order to be brave there must be fear, and I have no fear”. I remember my father saying that to do something apparently requiring bravery while feeling no fear is not bravery but stupidity. Strange that the thought had not appeared previously. Now, with it in mind, it is no surprise that I am beginning to touch the rough spots of this doing or, better said, un-doing. I can suddenly become dejected: it’s “the downs”.
This is not an easy thing to admit after all I have written about love, gratitude, peace and joy, but it is what is: I have “the downs”. Not easy, but necessary none the less for if I didn’t admit it, I wouldn’t be honest and my commitment to ‘telling it as I see it’ would no longer hold true.
So, yes, I’ve got the downs; they’ve been hanging around all day, or rather I should say “the downs” have got me. I’m not quite sure when it began because I tend to ignore this kind of feeling, hoping it will go away. It never does. I’ll get busy with something small and physical like washing the dishes, or I’ll put a movie in the DVD, or I’ll surf a bit on internet, or play a game (obsessively) of solitaire. No use. All activity undertaken for the purpose of distracting that which is lurking in the shadows of presence is in vain. So I have to finally admit it. I’ve got “the downs”. They crept up on me and suddenly jelled on Christmas day.
I can see now that I was trying to make the best of it, telling myself that so many hours in the day with nothing specific or necessary to do was something to enjoy, or that I wasn’t disappointed when a friend refused an invitation to come for lunch, or that it was just as good to be cooking a special meal all for myself, after all it was Christmas day. But “the downs” were not to be fooled. Nothing was any use. The hollow feeling of being no one in the middle of nowhere took over and even the fact that my chicken-a-la-turkey was delicious seemed to make more depressing the inevitable reality that I was eating it all alone and there was no one (but Salomé) to appreciate my elaborate cooking (and Salomé is a ‘garbage’ dog, she eats everything indistinctly).
Still, I ignored the signs and pretended things were going just fine. After lunch I slipped a DVD into the screen and watched a movie. It was depressing, so when a friend called inviting me to come over a bit later, I snapped that I was in the middle of a movie and could he please call back when he finished with his nap.
The movie had just ended when I received an unexpected call from my brother who doesn’t usually phone me. I had recently written him a rather long letter detailing a day of my life in Salies. “You sound a bit lonely” he said. Oh God! Even other people could detect what I was trying so bravely to ignore and hide from myself and everyone else, as if having “the downs” were due to some inherent and despicable character defect of my own. “That’s normal” he continued, “given the enormous change you’ve made.” Why didn’t his understanding cheer me up? Quite the contrary, I felt embarrassed to have been found out. I didn’t want to be normal: I wanted to be special, special enough to never have “the downs”.
Still, it was obvious: I was depressed. God! How I hate that word! When I hung up, I decided to go for a walk, hoping that the brisk cold air blessed with the afternoon sunshine would do the job. I stopped by my friend’s house for a cup of afternoon tea and (as always) too many cookies. He gave me a beautiful book with aerial photographs of the whole region and descriptions in three languages: Spanish, English and French. I came home. Played solitaire on the computer for half an hour, called my kids and wished them a Merry Christmas, wrote some postcards and put stamps on them, surfed the internet for a couple of hours looking for a sofa-bed for the dressing-guest room (ordered one) and still the feeling lay like a sullen pool of self-pity in my stomach.
Time passed, the day finally drew to a close and I crawled into a warm bed hoping oblivion would come quickly with no dreams. Not to be. The mind insisted I “’fess up” and began dictating this brief piece. I turned on the light once more, took pen in hand and wrote: “THE DOWNS” on an empty page in my notebook. When I finished I realized what I have known from a very young age: that writing, putting words on paper, simple honest words, is what saves me every time, lifting me from Dump-land and anchoring me once more in the awe of this wonderful life. Sleep was kind and healing.