I had a rough couple of weeks just a little while back. Too much going on, and too much of it out of my control. At one point, I couldn’t even speak. I was concerned about me.
My husband took me out to dinner and, on the way, I remember holding onto my hands in my lap. I remember I was wearing my black wool coat with the asymmetrical zipper closure, and that I had on sneakers. I remember my husband asking me gentle questions, trying to figure out whether or not I knew why I was coming undone. I remember having a few words floating around in my brain, but there didn’t seem to be any conjunctions in there to make them make any sense.
I was afraid that if I opened my mouth I would cry.
It wasn’t the crying that worried me. What worried me was the possibility I might not be able to stop before we got to the restaurant. It was the kind of restaurant where you walk up to the counter to place your order and then wait at your table for a guy in suspenders and hipster glasses to bring out your food.
If I started crying in the car, I might still be crying when I stepped up to the counter.
“No problem,” H said to me when his questions yielded no answers. “We can talk about something else.”
I’ve been on the other side of this conversation before. I’ve worried about a loved one who seemed to be losing some kind of inner battle over which they had no control, and for which they had no words. When I’m on the other side, wondering what’s going on, I am not so gentle. I’m more naggy. I want it fixed. The undoing scares me and I want the person I love to be okay. So, I press in a little bit harder than is helpful. And then, I weasel my way in and wrap their trouble around my wrist like a too-small rubber band; it gets increasingly uncomfortable, threatening to cut off my circulation.
The fact that H didn’t try to get in or press for answers I didn’t have, was a gift to me.
In his book, Let Your Life Speak, Parker J. Palmer shares his experience of deep depression. During this season, Palmer had friends like me (“They all meant well,” he says), and he had friends like H.
“Blessedly, there were several people, family and friends, who had the courage to stand with me in a simple and healing way. One of them was a friend named Bill who, having asked my permission to do so, stopped by my home every afternoon, sat me down in a chair, knelt in front of me, removed my shoes and socks, and for half an hour simply massaged my feet. He found the one place in my body where I could still experience feeling — and feel somewhat reconnected with the human race.
“Bill rarely spoke a word. When he did, he never gave advice but simply mirrored my condition. He would say, ‘I can sense your struggle today,’ or ‘It feels like you are getting stronger.’ I could not always respond, but his words were deeply helpful: they reassured me that I could still be seen by someone — life-giving knowledge in the midst of an experience that makes one feel annihilated and invisible. It is impossible to put into words what my friend’s ministry meant to me.” (pp. 63-64)
I’ve had bouts with depression in the past. Some seasons have lasted longer than others. I have prayed and lamented, I have been to therapy, and I have taken medication. Thankfully, this time around, all it took was a day or two and a change of scenery for me to find my words and to feel the edges of myself being pulled back together.
Yesterday, riding in the car with H, I was able to put words to this latest bout of the funk. I told him what I’d been feeling, and he helped to fill in some of the blanks by repeating back some of what I was saying, or by asking more of his gentle questions.
“Thank you,” I said to him as the sun hung low over the fields just outside the driver’s side window. “You pulled me back together. You were my needle and thread.”
He nodded, and kept looking straight ahead. “Yeah,” he said. “Well, you’re my rock.”
I’m never proud to tell people I sometimes find myself at the bottom of a deep, dark hole. I’d much rather broadcast only the best moments of my life. But dark holes are part of my life, just as much as the mountaintop experiences are. Maybe you’ve experienced some dark holes of your own? Maybe you know and love someone who sometimes disappears into the darkness?
Palmer quotes the poet Rainer Maria Rilke: “love…consists in this, that two solitudes protect and border and salute each other.”
“It is,” Palmer says, “a love in which we represent God’s love to a suffering person, a God who does not ‘fix’ us but gives us strength by suffering with us. By standing respectfully and faithfully at the borders of another’s solitude, we may mediate the love of God to a person who needs something deeper than any human being can give.”
It’s that idea of “a God who does not ‘fix’ us” that jumps out at me.
My mom taught me to wield a needle and thread at a very young age. I have sewn dresses and curtains and outfits for my children. When I was little, my mom would sew up the holes I tore in the knees of my white tights. She’d use the threaded needle to pull the ragged edges together and I’d be presented with a pair of tights that now sported a raised ridge of bunched together polyester fabric across the knee. The tights had been mended, but not fixed. They’d forever tell the story of climbing trees, or slipping in a game of hopscotch, or spending hours on the floor playing a game of jacks. They were mended, but they weren’t the same.
I like that, about God. He redeems our dark holes and works them into the fabric of our DNA. We are never the same, after we’ve come through the darkness. We don’t go back. We go through. God with us.
Sometimes he uses the needle and thread of people who love us, even though they’ve seen us at our very lowest point.