“Then, when it seems we will never smile again life comes back.” - a greeting card
I have a tendency towards depression and all of this heat has really been getting me down. I have no tolerance for it. Even as a child in the drier, cooler summers of my dad’s Eastern Colorado wheat farm, I wilted and became cranky and sad when the sun got high. And, as much as I like my life in Georgia, after 21 years I am still completely surprised and demoralized by what humidity does to the temperatures here.
Like me, Winston Churchill had a tendency towards bleakness (his may or may not have been climate-based) and he called his depression the “Black Dog.” I have always liked that notion of these sad feelings that come and go. Thinking of them as a black dog gives them a familiarity that takes some of their ominous potential away.
For years my Black Dog has visited in the dark cold months of the New Year – January, February, sometimes staying on into March. This winter he didn’t show up and, while I briefly wondered why, I was glad to have dodged his particular brand of bullet for once. And, so I moved quickly on to simply enjoying the time without him on into early summer. Then the heat hit – robbing us of those lush mornings in the garden and lovely, leisurely evenings in the yard. It got so hot, so quick that we’ve not even opened some of the citronella buckets I bought in anticipation of all that wonderful time outside.
Then, who should show up at my door, all hot and thirsty, clearly ready to settle in for a nice long stay in my air conditioning? My Black Dog. We’re in about our sixth week together and I’m getting tired of his company. The thing about a black dog is that it can blend in and make itself scarce, so you almost forget it’s there until you stumble on it in the night or trip over it as you get out of a chair. And, if the black dog in question is The Black Dog, every time you bump into him, there you are, all down in the dumps again. Like a real black dog, my Black Dog follows me everywhere, padding along softly at my heels, making it hard to remember all the good things in my life.
Fortunately, I work part time in an emergency room as social worker and that gives me a perspective that helps keep my Black Dog in line. For example, yesterday a woman about my age was brought in unresponsive.
Her worried and tearful boyfriend found her that way in the morning when he tried to wake her up.
It turned out she had a bad brain bleed, the result of untreated high blood pressure. She had been out in her garden yesterday evening, the boyfriend said, and when she came in she “looked real hot.” He said she went right to bed and sometime in the night, a vessel in her head popped and there she was on a breathing machine - her prognosis very poor.
One of my jobs in the ER is to call families when something bad happens. So, I called that woman’s family and one by one they trickled in, surprised, upset, sad, angry, calling on the Lord to fix what had just happened. It’s a difficult thing to watch – people processing a terrible event. But, it feels good to help them in a small way, water, a cold cloth, a hand to hold, a shoulder to cry on, a small box of Kleenex, another explanation of what the doctor said.
During this I hear a lot about the patient and his or her family. Some of it is good; some of it isn’t so good; some of it’s downright appalling but it seems to help people to talk about it all. This particular woman was estranged from her family because they didn’t like her boyfriend and some of the habits he shared with her. Initially there was a lot of tension between the family and the boyfriend – so much that they couldn’t be in the same room. It took awhile, but by the time I walked them all up to ICU, they had decided to be okay with each other so that they could all pray for her.
They had moved from focusing on the bad things to remembering the good – something that most families end up doing by the time it’s time to go up to ICU or call the funeral home. And, that’s when it hits me – every time I deal with one of these families – how precious life is and how suddenly and unexpectedly it can be snatched from us. One evening I’m working in my garden; the next day I’m in ICU surrounded by doctors and nurses shaking their heads.
It’s the bad times that really bring out what people are made of and a surprising number are really strong, with the ability to be positive and true. In a way, my Black Dog is like those bad times; he shows me how dark everything is and then follows me into the light, leaving me alone to enjoy it for awhile while he takes a nap under a shade tree.
Anne Lamott said, “I do not understand the mystery of grace – only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.” It’s the same thing with that ole’ Black Dog – maybe I should start calling him Grace.
Lorin Sinn-Clark is a writer for the Barrow Journal. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.