Let’s get personal about the issues of sadness, depression, and grief. I can see these things playing out in my family – my parents, siblings, in-laws, my children, my nieces and nephews. These sensations are not all-or-nothing. There seem to be degrees of sadness, a continum. My personal life has covered the spectrum. I believe today that my greatest joy is ahead of me – and my greatest sadness is waiting for me to come around the corner. My life continues to play out. For those who do not know me I am a senior, not yet elderly, physically healthy, educated, intelligent, and scared to walk around the corner.
Nature or nurture? We hear people ask if their depression is natural or causal. Most counselors would agree that both behavior and chemistry play roles in upsetting our balance of happiness. The big pharmaceuticals are working on the chemistry – as individuals we can address the behavior. Or can we? A seemingly insignificant chemical imbalance with environmental trauma can be a cocktail of doom. Add these event up, year after year, and trauma can become the norm. Sorting out cause and effect is like un-baking a cake.
My life has been one of the greatest of joys and the deepest of grief and sadness. I have hiked mountains and rafted the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon – crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and enjoyed the view from the Eiffel Tower – exciting and exhilarating experiences relatively few get to experience. In forty-five years I have lived with three different women. Each of them brought great joy and horrendous grief into my life. The joy and the grief were all the result of personal choices by the people involved. I have lived in Camelot and in the siege of Stalingrad. My life has known the best of friends and the worst of enemies.
The greatest adventures pale in comparison to the birth of my first child – a girl that changed my life forever. It was 1972 and I was a young and unwitting chauvinist. I had wanted a son for no reason other than my ignorance. Two years later my son was born. I had wanted another girl just like my oldest – because there could not possibly be anything better than that little girl. I hold that opinion yet today. She is precious in every way and has brought me the greatest joys of my life.
My son is pretty special too – but I reflect now that most of the energy of my adult life was for that first girl. This was not planned but it seems that she and I gravitated toward each other. I helped her when she needed help and she helped me when I needed help. She and I shared our lives in a way that was not present with my other two children. This is a reality that I did not recognize until I lost her. She was not lost to disease or accident – she was lost to the mean and hateful tyranny of fear, obsession, poverty, anger, and ignorance.
Children are the enigmas of life. Great joy. Great sadness. Grandchildren are the same. There is nothing so powerful as one’s child. I failed to recognize the converse – the power of the parent in the life of the child. When grief and fear and ignorance and poverty came knocking I answered with the double barrel of anger.
Now I don’t know what to do. When we grow and learn and mature we look back at the mistakes of the past. Some we can amend, some we cannot. I am confident that my anger has brought misery into the lives of people that I barely knew – or did not know at all – like the clerk at the convenient store. I cannot go back in time and fix those wrongs – I can only use those experiences to try to be a better person today – to motivate me to practice love and tolerance. I suppose there is some element of amend in that.
But I do not know what to do about those events that separated me from loved ones. Pride factors in. It is hard to say, “I am sorry for what I did”, without the follow-up of, “but you were bad too”. Why do we need to add crust to the humble pie with a jab at another? That probably has to do with pride and some lack of faith in an honest admission of wrong doing.
Life is too complex. What if I believe my position was correct but my expression of my righteousness was horrendous? How do I say, “I will admit I was wrong in my actions if you admit that I was actually right”? Nonsense. The grief and misery of life will continue as long as we want it to.
The grief and misery will end when we put aside the actions of others and take responsibility only for our own behavior.
Are you ready yet?