And I was just giving thought to depression and purpose, and how the two are so often attached to each other. As if when one finds a purpose, one will not be depressed. But we all know that this is not the case, because sometimes finding no purpose is the best way to get rid of the blues that beset so many of us. The pressure of meaning and purpose are often the culprit and catalyst of the darkness that is visible. And how tough is it when you are 13 and 18 and 14 and 16 and 17, and mostly certainly, 15 – how tough is it to realize the spinning meaninglessness of this life; you know, the thoughts that adults, who are my age, have as frequent as morning stretches. Those insidious thoughts that sound off at the most inopportune times, like on the toilet or in the shower or driving your car or seeing your children or not seeing your children and feeling guilty because it feels good or paying bills and taxes and child support or spending romantic time or dancing or being sexual or watching a good movie or traveling or just about any activity. And you ask yourself on more than just bleak occasions, ‘Is this it?’ And you convince yourself that life is all about this, realizing that it’s that very thought that got you to this point. Now, imagine being a teenager and having those thoughts every day in the prison of school, and then going home and feeling the same. And then imagine, you become an adult, and it really hasn’t changed.
I’m not saying that I don’t love my life – ok, I don’t always love my life, but I do like my life with all its gunk and mess and joys and creativity. I do like it with all the stuff I do, and how I help people feel better. And I’m a positive guy; I really am. I roll with the punches, and sometimes I roll into the punches. But I was thinking this morning how I never intended to make it this far, how I thought for certain that my life would come to a close – by my hands or others -- before 30, and how at times, I wished for this. I am glad that I made it to 40.
It was all weighing heavily on me this morning when I was thinking about Brian Winn. When I was 15 Brian and I were close, and he was a year older than me. And Brian was cool, definitely one of the cool and popular guys. And me? I was a distant cool. I got some merit from being Roy’s younger brother and playing football. I was an anomaly. I was the black kid who didn’t ‘act black’ who would do crazy stuff to prove that I had substance to offer as well. I was peculiar. I. didn’t. quite. fit. in. So, when Brian Winn wanted to hang with me I was over-the-top giddy. We made plans that we would party hard when he got his car the following year. And do you know what that meant to my mind? Girls. Hook-ups. Drinking. Having fun.
But I couldn’t even make it that far. A few months later, I wanted to end my life. And then Jesus, ruining all my plans I had with Brian, went on and saved me. And I became even stranger. And Brian didn’t want to hang out with me anymore, and I wasn’t going to any parties with him or hooking up with the pretty, popular girls. I was a Jesus freak, walking through the hallways of my school preaching AT people, telling them how much I ‘loved’ them, but how they were all going to hell, if they didn’t accept God into their lives. And I did find peace, through God, through faith and religion, but I wasn’t really ‘happy’ either. I convinced myself that I was better off having the guarantee of eternal life than enjoying sin for a season. Or something like that.
Now, here’s the hard part to admit, finding God did not permanently remove my depression. In fact, I would go as far as saying that it perhaps made it more acute. When you see the world for the way it is, whereas, before you had been living with blinders and lies and masks, reality is not glorious. It is bleak. There is an adjustment period to this brightness; light stuns and shocks when all you know is how to move through the darkness.
I became aware of my failure. No more lying to myself. I knew well of my imperfection, because I was told incessantly by pulpits and altar calls that I just wasn’t quite good enough, but Jesus still loved me. How depressing is that thought? How does one ever feel powerful, beautiful, or confident, if you are taught that your beauty is only because of some other being outside of yourself who lives within you; that you, on your own, are ugly and damaged and imperfect?
I don’t regret my radical conversion, for it was this awakening that brought me closer to the balance I now feel. I am thankful for the people who were placed by God to intercept me from ending my own life. I appreciate Mary Lou Blake, Pastor Snyder, Janice Tulp, Charlie Thiel, Linda Wigginton, and anyone else who whispered, ‘It will get better.’ However, now, I see things differently. I am not a failed being; I am a perfect being who fails because I choose not to see my perfection.
Depression hurts, but I’ve also discovered that it helps. It helps me see through the muck and fear. It teaches me how to remove the mask. Depression makes me question my existence, while simultaneously bringing my existence into better focus. I have found a creativity within myself that is hard to harness when I am not riding the tides of sadness. I celebrate these epiphanies. I celebrate with all of us who have found true spirituality. A student once told me that religion is for those who are afraid of hell, and spirituality is for those of us who have been through hell and have come back. I would like to welcome you back, my friends. Welcome back from the darkness. Welcome back to the darkness of a new moon.