A Lesson from My Wife

November 19, 2014

Here in the United States we celebrate Thanksgiving every fourth Thursday in November. The holiday evolved from the original Pilgrims’ gratitude at having enough food to survive through the first winter they spent in the New World. (Yes, I know that’s an oversimplification, but the holiday isn’t my point so much.) Most Americans celebrate by cooking a large meal, usually involving turkey and dressing/stuffing, and offering thanks to God for what we have.

I am thankful for what I have, but I am also mindful that a lot of other people in the world struggle to get by with much less. I have seen unspeakable poverty and suffering in Bolivia, and I have seen misery here in a rich country that has no excuse for poverty. But it’s very easy to get caught up in our little lives, our work, school, finances, commute, and all the other cares of the day, without thinking about the suffering that is within arm’s reach of us every day.

Many years ago my wife taught me how important it is to keep your eyes open and look for ways to help. At the time we were living in our first home, a 40-year-old fixer-upper in Orem, Utah, with our five children (our sixth would be born a few years later). We struggled to make ends meet, but we always seemed to have just enough to get by. Things were tight enough that car problems or an issue with an appliance would have been disastrous for us. As we said at the time, financially speaking, we had no room to sneeze. We kept to a tight budget and bought groceries with cash to stay within the budget.

One Saturday afternoon I was working in the house when my wife left to shop for groceries. When she returned, she introduced me to a young woman with a couple of small children. They looked tired and disheveled. My wife had noticed the young woman in the store, and when she went out to load the groceries in the car, she noticed that the young woman was in the car next to ours, sobbing.

Seeing her distress, my wife knocked on the window and asked her what was wrong. The young woman explained that her husband had left her, and she was taking the children from their previous home in the Midwest to live with her parents in Oregon, but they had run out of money and gas in Utah. She had purchased a small amount of food and baby supplies, but there was no money for gas to continue the journey.

My sweet wife asked her where they were staying, and she replied that they had no place to stay, that they would probably sleep in the car right there in the parking lot. Without hesitating, my wife told her they could stay with us for the night. They followed her to our house, where they were able to bathe, eat, and wash their clothes, and the young woman was able to call her parents in Oregon to let them know she was safe. After dinner, our girls played with the two small children, fussing over them while the mother rested.

Cynical as I am, I was skeptical and wondered if this might be some kind of scam, but my wife calmly assured me that these people needed our help. We were going to help them, end of story. Besides, she smiled, we had nothing of value to steal, so there was no risk. She was right, and I was a little ashamed of having been so suspicious.

I took the young woman’s car to a gas station and filled the tank with gas and checked all the fluids, while my wife returned to the store with the young woman and made sure she had food, formula, and diapers for the rest of the trip.

In the morning, the little family looked much better, rested and in clean clothes. We helped load up the car and gave the young woman some cash for gas and other needs. Before they left, the young woman broke into sobs as she hugged us and thanked us. She said she had been at the end of her rope and had been praying for help when my wife knocked on the car window.

I suppose some people would call that a miracle or an answer to prayer, but I believe that we are much more likely to create miracles and answer prayers when we are looking out for each other. Had I been the one shopping that day, I am pretty certain I wouldn’t have noticed a young woman alone and sobbing in a car with her children. I would have loaded up the groceries and gone home, and no one would have been the wiser.

But my wife is not like that. She always keeps hers eyes open for opportunities to help people, and she never does anything halfway. We’ve been married for 27 years, and I hope I’ve picked up some of that ability from her, but I’ve had to learn it consciously. It comes naturally for her, and it’s one of the reasons I love her so much.

I have no idea what happened to that young woman and her children, and I’m not telling this story because I want thanks from her or a pat on the back from anyone else. Besides, it wasn’t me who reached out and helped someone in need. Her example makes me want to emphasize the giving part of Thanksgiving this year. I’ll keep my eyes open.


An “Insanely Long” Look at the LDS Church’s Polygamy Essay

November 18, 2014

A longtime friend, whom I respect greatly, has written a long and thoughtful response to the LDS church’s recent essay about plural marriage in the early days of the church. I’ve said what I needed to say about the essay in an earlier post, but his essay is for those who really want to dig into the essay. As he says, it’s “insanely long” (53 pages!), so be forewarned. Note that you’ll need a PDF reader.

FWIW: My Thoughts on “Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo” Essay

 


Urim and Thummim Not Required

November 3, 2014

A friend asked, “Say, has anyone else noticed that these essays are not being translated into other languages and posted on the LDS Church’s websites in other languages?

Good question.

I suppose you could say that it takes time to translate things, but these are relatively short essays, and the church has had plenty of lead time. Had they wanted to translate them, they could have released the translated versions simultaneously with the English versions of the essays.

But there’s a reason they haven’t. Most likely, as my friend puts it, it’s in English only because

… it’s frantic triage directed specifically at Americans because very little of the damning historical material has been translated into other languages. This would be more convincing as a new type of good faith Glasnost if Italian members were given these essays even though there is no MormonThink or Signature Books in Italian.

A unilateral attempt to be transparent and open would involve exposing all members of the LDS church to this material. That it’s been published only in English–and you can only find it by directly linking to each essay–suggests that this material is intended to help the church reassert some control over a message that is currently being driven by multitudes of sources on the Internet. As I mentioned before, the problem is that many of those random Internet sites out there provide the source material in whole and in context. As I noted the other day, the church’s essays spin, deflect, and bury primary sources under references to apologetic works such as those of Brian Hales. And sometimes they even misuse sources to support a thesis contrary to the facts.

So, yes, like my friend, I’ll congratulate the church on its openness when it translates this material into the major languages spoken within the church. Then again, the translated material is still highly spun and occasionally dishonest. So, I’ll hold off on the congratulations.


More on the Polygamy Essays

November 3, 2014

I noticed that the Salt Lake Tribune has a couple of opinion pieces regarding the LDS church’s recent essays on plural marriage. I have commented here, but I think these both make good points. The first is from Gary James Bergera.

Smith polygamy essays commendable, but still not the full story

Mr. Bergera, who is on the editorial board of Signature Books, writes about the church’s “jarring” candor in addressing the facts of early Mormon polygamy. But he’s right that the essays take great pains to shy away from the “full story.” I thought this point was particularly insightful:

First, the essay on polygamy during Joseph Smith’s lifetime reflects an emerging apologetic argument that seeks to portray Smith as a reluctant polygamist who had to be coerced by an angel into engaging in sexual relations with his plural wives. Such a position misrepresents Smith’s zest for life and self-perception as Heaven’s lawgiver, while imposing on him a particular brand of morality that was foreign to him. “That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another,” he taught (History of the church, 5:134). He also stated that there were “many things in the Bible which do not, as they now stand, accord with the revelation of the Holy Ghost to me” (Words of Joseph Smith, p. 211).

This idea of “reluctant polygamist” comes from Smith’s repeated assertions to his prospective wives that he would not have practiced polygamy had he not been forced by an angel with a drawn sword. The problem is that he said the angel continued to threaten him even after he had entered into the practice, suggesting that God wasn’t so much interested in restoring “the principle” of plural marriage as He was in ensuring that Joseph Smith married specific women. As Bergera notes above, Joseph was a self-confident man who believed that his actions were always right when backed by the command of God (indeed, the first quote Bergera cites is from a letter Smith wrote to convince a reluctant young woman to become his plural wife). The historical record suggests that Joseph’s main concern in entering into plural marriages was that they might be discovered by Emma Smith or the public. Bergera urges the church to take steps toward “narrating as fully and as accurately as possible” the history of plural marriage.

The second essay, from psychologist and self-described “believing Mormon woman” Kristy Money, approaches the essay from its potential effects on readers:

LDS Church should make clear Smith was wrong to take 14-year-old wife

There’s not much here for me to disagree with. Smith’s dishonesty about his plural marriages should be troubling to anyone, no matter how “carefully worded” his denials were. And his practice of marrying young girls, often those under his care and protection in his own home, is indeed not all that different from “victim grooming patterns” seen among sex offenders (particularly when one considers Smith’s approach to Mary Rollins when she was 12 years old). Ms. Money argues that, taken together, Smith’s actions were clearly wrong, and the church’s attempts to justify them could help sexual predators today convince their victims that they have the church’s blessing in committing their crimes. So, she asks the church to state clearly that Smith was wrong and made mistakes that the church does not support.

Both of these essays rest on what I think are mistaken assumptions about the church’s essays. Simply put, the essays are about finding a way to acknowledge troubling history and at the same time to present Joseph Smith in a positive light. Both authors recognize that “fully and accurately” discussing this history puts Joseph Smith in a bad light. Whether commanded of God or not, Smith clearly engaged in manipulative and dishonest behavior in his relationships with his plural wives. Mr. Bergera and Ms. Money would like the LDS church to explain this clearly and unequivocally, with Ms. Money asking the church to disavow Smith’s “mistakes” explicitly.

But these essays aren’t about full disclosure and acknowledgment of past errors. They are about justifying Joseph Smith, nothing more. One thing I have learned in my life as a Mormon is that the LDS church will sacrifice any past leader if it is necessary to maintain the church’s current narratives. Brigham Young has been called a racist by many believing Mormons, and later church leaders have labeled as “deadly heresy” Young’s teachings about the relationship between God and humanity. But Joseph Smith is sacrosanct, and the church will never condemn anything he did in the name of God, let alone call it “wrong” or a “mistake.” These essays are probably the best we can expect from the LDS church: candid, up to a point, and misleading and even dishonest when needed.

The problem for the church is that most members who read the essays will do so after they have stumbled across what others have written about this difficult history. My guess is that such readers will recognize immediately that the essays are not completely forthcoming and will see through much of the bending of the truth.


The Fog of Marriage

October 27, 2014

“Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.” –Donald Rumsfeld.

As many readers will know, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has of late released several essays about difficult or controversial doctrines or events in its history. I’ve generally avoided commenting on these essays, as others have done a much better job than I could in discussing their contents. I should mention that I believe it’s a step in the right direction for the church to address these issues, particularly because so many faithful members have been troubled when they learn of the issues, with more than a few leaving the church as a result. That said, each essay seems to be intended to lessen the impact of the troubling issues, often blurring the reality and in some cases directly contradicting the evidence. I don’t blame them for trying to put these issues in the most positive light possible, but then again I wish they would trust their readers with the truth.

This shading of the truth continues in the church’s latest essays, which cover Mormon polygamy in the early days of Kirtland, Ohio, and Nauvoo, Illinois, and the later practice of polygamy in Utah. Here I’ll discuss the first essay and a few things that stand out for me; I’ll leave it to others to more thoroughly cover the subject; for example, see the “Infants on Thrones” discussion with Community of Christ historian John Hamer. (Full disclosure: I do not know John Hamer personally, but his sister is a very good friend of mine.)

The important thing to understand about the essay, “Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo,” is that its purpose is not so much to illuminate but rather to emphasize how little we know about early Mormon polygamy:

Many details about the early practice of plural marriage are unknown. Plural marriage was introduced among the early Saints incrementally, and participants were asked to keep their actions confidential. They did not discuss their experiences publicly or in writing until after the Latter-day Saints had moved to Utah and Church leaders had publicly acknowledged the practice. The historical record of early plural marriage is therefore thin: few records of the time provide details, and later reminiscences are not always reliable. Some ambiguity will always accompany our knowledge about this issue. Like the participants, we “see through a glass, darkly” and are asked to walk by faith.

All of this is true, of course. There is very little contemporary evidence from the participants in plural marriage, and that is a result of the secrecy of the practice. Joseph Smith, for example, kept his plural marriages hidden from the public, from most of his followers (including some who were otherwise in his inner circle), and even from his wife, Emma. Most, but not all, of the evidence that Joseph Smith introduced and practiced plural marriage comes from recollections of participants often made long after Smith’s death. The scarcity of contemporary, firsthand accounts led the anti-polygamy Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (now known as the Community of Christ) to insist for over 100 years that plural marriage was a heresy introduced by Brigham Young. (For a good example of polygamy denial, see “Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy,” though be forewarned that, if you know anything about the subject, you’ll be rolling your eyes a lot.) But the sheer volume of testimony and corroboration of many witnesses has led historians and even the Community of Christ to acknowledge that “research findings point to Joseph Smith Jr. as a significant source for plural marriage teaching and practice at Nauvoo.”

One would expect a historical essay to discuss what we know, but in this case the emphasis is squarely on what we don’t know, or at least what the LDS church says we don’t know. In discussing Fanny Alger, recognized by some as Smith’s first plural wife, the essay states, “Several Latter-day Saints who had lived in Kirtland reported decades later that Joseph Smith had married Alger, who lived and worked in the Smith household, after he had obtained her consent and that of her parents. Little is known about this marriage, and nothing is known about the conversations between Joseph and Emma regarding Alger.” The second sentence leaves open the possibility that Joseph obtained Emma’s consent before marrying Fanny and ignores testimony from others who say Emma was outraged when she discovered the relationship. Most of the essay follows this pattern of carefully worded statements that are superficially true but give a misleading impression.

At other points, the essay overstates tenuous evidence. For example, we read that “several women said [the marriages/sealings] were for eternity alone.” However, Brian Hales, whose research forms the basis of most of the essay, provides only one anonymous statement from many years later that one wife, Ruth Vose Sayers, was sealed for “eternity alone”:

While there the strongest affection sprang up between the Prophet Joseph and Mr. Sayers. The latter not attaching much importance to \the/ theory of a future life insisted that his wife \Ruth/ should be sealed to the Prophet for eternity, as he himself should only claim [page2—the first 3 lines of which are written over illegible erasures] her in this life. She \was/ accordingly the sealed to the Prophet in Emma Smith’s presence and thus were became numbered among the Prophets plural wives. She however \though she/ \continued to live with Mr. Sayers / remained with her husband \until his death.

Even if we grant that this unattributed statement definitely claims that “eternity-only” sealings were practiced (I am not sure it necessarily means that at all), it doesn’t mean that “several women” said that such were their marriages. You may notice that most of the footnotes regarding this subject are to Hales’s book, not to firsthand testimony.

This insistence that “several” marriages were of the eternity-only variety is central to the essay’s central theme that we know some marriages weren’t sexual, and we don’t know enough about the other ones:

During the era in which plural marriage was practiced, Latter-day Saints distinguished between sealings for time and eternity and sealings for eternity only. Sealings for time and eternity included commitments and relationships during this life, generally including the possibility of sexual relations. Eternity-only sealings indicated relationships in the next life alone.

Evidence indicates that Joseph Smith participated in both types of sealings. The exact number of women to whom he was sealed in his lifetime is unknown because the evidence is fragmentary. Some of the women who were sealed to Joseph Smith later testified that their marriages were for time and eternity, while others indicated that their relationships were for eternity alone.

Here again the emphasis is on eternity-only sealings, with “time and eternity” sealings only “generally including the possibility of sexual relations.” So, even the “time and eternity” sealings may not have involved sexuality. This is an important assertion, as it is used to support the idea that Joseph’s relationships with married women were not sexual.

Following his marriage to Louisa Beaman and before he married other single women, Joseph Smith was sealed to a number of women who were already married. Neither these women nor Joseph explained much about these sealings, though several women said they were for eternity alone. Other women left no records, making it unknown whether their sealings were for time and eternity or were for eternity alone.

Polyandry is very troubling to a lot of people (and for good reason), but if the church’s essay is correct, most of these women left no record, and those who did said the relationships were “for eternity alone.” This essay thus goes a long way in comforting the troubled, who can rest assured that Joseph Smith most likely did not have sex with married women. But is the essay correct in this assertion?

Thus far, the essay has given only nebulous references to “several” and “others” with the footnotes sending us to Hales. But there is one direct statement from one of the wives that is cited as evidence of “eternity alone” sealings:

Helen Mar Kimball spoke of her sealing to Joseph as being “for eternity alone,” suggesting that the relationship did not involve sexual relations.

This is important, as Helen was 14 years old at the time of her marriage to Joseph Smith. A lot of people are appalled when they hear about this, as they assume that, given the marriage, Joseph and Helen must have had a sexual relationship. Some have gone so far as to insist that this marriage means Joseph was a “pedophile.”

If the essay is correct, that Helen clearly stated that her relationship was “for eternity alone,” the church can confidently leave open the possibility that many of Joseph Smith’s marriages, including Helen’s and the polyandrous marriages, were not sexual in nature. When I read the essay, my first thought was that, although I had read Helen’s writings many times, I had never seen a direct statement that her marriage was for “eternity alone.” I wondered how I had missed it. The footnote was, unsurprisingly, a reference to Hales, so I was going to have to find the reference myself. With a little work, I did. It comes in the second line of a poem Helen wrote about her marriage to Joseph Smith (the entire poem is reprinted here).

I thought through this life my time will be my own
The step I now am taking’s for eternity alone,
No one need be the wiser, through time I shall be free,
And as the past hath been the future still will be.
To my guileless heart all free from worldly care
And full of blissful hopes and youthful visions rare
The world seamed bright the thret’ning clouds were kept
From sight and all looked fair but pitying angels wept.
They saw my youthful friends grow shy and cold.
And poisonous darts from sland’rous tongues were hurled,
Untutor’d heart in thy gen’rous sacrafise,
Thou dids’t not weigh the cost nor know the bitter price;
Thy happy dreams all o’er thou’st doom’d also to be
Bar’d out from social scenes by this thy destiny,
And o’er thy sad’nd mem’ries of sweet departed joys
Thy sicken’d heart will brood and imagine future woes,
And like a fetter’d bird with wild and longing heart,
Thou’lt dayly pine for freedom and murmor at thy lot;

In context, then, Helen writes that, as a young girl, she had “thought” that the marriage was “for eternity alone” but had been mistaken. Before anyone attacks me for suggesting that Joseph had sex with a 14-year-old, I am not saying that at all. For the record, I agree with Todd Compton that the evidence in Helen’s case is “ambiguous,” and there is no evidence of a sexual relationship.

The problem here is that, contrary to the essay, Helen Mar Kimball did not speak “of her sealing to Joseph as being ‘for eternity alone.’” Her statement, then, cannot be used to suggest “that the relationship did not involve sexual relations.” As I said, there is no evidence one way or the other regarding sexuality in that marriage. Helen’s complaints about her social life tell us that she was not free to be courted by other male suitors, and that suggests that, whatever else was happening, the marriage was in effect for time, as well as for eternity. I tend to agree with Todd Compton that the marriage may have been more “dynastic” than the romantic relationships Joseph had with his other wives, but in all honesty, there’s really no solid evidence for that, either. But Helen’s experience can’t be applied to Joseph’s other marriages, many of which definitely involved a sexual relationship. A single anonymous citation does not suggest that none of the polyandrous marriages were sexual; indeed, there is strong evidence to the contrary, but you wouldn’t know that from reading this essay.

And that’s really the problem. Where there is solid evidence, the church downplays its significance, and where the evidence is inconclusive, the church applies it broadly. And in the case of Helen Kimball, the church simply quotes her out of context to give an incorrect impression.


Unafraid

October 22, 2014

I’ll be turning 50 in a couple of weeks. Turning 30 wasn’t a big deal, and 40 came and went with little more than a shrug. 50 doesn’t seem that big a deal, but a couple of weeks ago, a dear friend suddenly passed away, and her death has caused me to reflect on life and where I am in it.

She was 79 years old and a delightful person. I didn’t realize she was that old because she was always so active and cheerful. She volunteered as an usher at her church up until the Sunday before she died of a sudden and massive stroke. My wife and I both agreed that she went the way we would like to go: mentally sharp and physically active until the end, with no long, lingering illness or loss of mental or physical capacity.

They say I’m middle-aged, but that would only be true if I were to live to 100, which I doubt I will do. The life I have left is shorter than the life I have already lived, and according to some people, that should cause me to worry about death and what comes after it. But I’m not afraid of death, and I don’t spend much time thinking about it. Life is to short, after all, to spend it worrying about its end. I don’t even fear getting old and losing my health, mental and physical. I’ll just deal with it as it comes.

This year people seem to want us to be afraid, and sometimes it does seem like there’s a perfect storm of trouble going on in the world today: Ebola, continuing global economic stagnation, DAESH (I refuse to call them “ISIS”), and a host of other problems have a lot of people in a bit of a lather.

Not me.

The likelihood that Ebola will break out in a worldwide pandemic is very small. The last time we saw anything like that was the influenza pandemic of 1918, which of course killed around 50 million people and infected one-fifth of the world’s population. But this is not 1918. In almost every part of the world, living conditions, sanitation, and medical care are much better than they were 100 years ago. And Ebola is not spread through the air, meaning that it’s much easier to contain, as long as one is careful. Even the mistakes made in Dallas not only haven’t resulted in a widespread outbreak but have been a much-needed wake-up call for better procedures. So, yeah, I may get Ebola at some point, but I’m not going to worry about it. I have a better chance of winning the lottery.

Yes, the economy still sucks. The unemployment rate is down, but much of that is due to people dropping out of the workforce and others taking jobs that pay less involve fewer hours. My company could disappear at any time,  but then I’ve been unemployed before and, given the nature of my industry, I may well be there again. I’ll survive.

A few years ago, if you’d told me that an armed death cult of thousands of religious sociopaths would take over large parts of two countries, I’d have thought you were pitching an idea for a horror film. People talk about dealing with “root causes” of such things, but I don’t believe any of the supposed factors (imperialism, poverty, alienation) explain a group that boasts of its desire to murder, rape, and enslave the rest of the world. Root causes or not, these are not the kind of folks you can negotiate with.

Do I worry about these Islamo-fascists killing me or my family? No, not really. I know, they say they want to kill Westerners where we live, and I suppose I can’t really stop that. They could show up at my house tonight, and that would be that for me. But I don’t worry about them, simply because, no matter how well-armed or powerful these folks become, the non-sociopaths will always outnumber the sociopaths. Right now a coalition of countries is doing a sort of half-assed job of containing these nutjobs, but if and when they become an existential threat to any of the regional powers, they will not be long for the world. They’re unlikely to ever hoist the black flag over the White House or Buckingham Palace if they can’t even manage to take a lightly defended Kurdish town. Perhaps on the plus side, they’re doing us a favor in concentrating the violent nutwads in one place.

So, I could be worrying about these things. There’s a lot I could worry about: race relations in the wake of Ferguson, climate change, same-sex marriage, health care, Vladimir Putin, Mexican drug cartels, who Alison Grimes voted for, the Export-Import Bank, “Meet the Mormons,” shingles, and  Canada, to name a few.

But I choose not to.

 


Depression

August 12, 2014

This post is probably going to come across as incredibly narcissistic, but I don’t care.

Last night I was getting ready for bed when my wife told me that Robin Williams had died, but she hadn’t heard the cause. I had my laptop, so I looked it up and read that it was probably “suicide by asphyxiation.”

That hit me hard, as 7 years ago last month I attempted suicide by asphyxiation. Things were very bleak in my life at the time, and one evening after my wife cried herself to sleep, I decided it would be better for everyone if I weren’t around anymore. I got out of bed, walked into my closet, and tied one end of a tie around the clothes rod and the other end around my neck. Then I relaxed my knees and let all my weight pull on the tie. Just that quickly I went from feeling depressed to wanting to die to actually trying to kill myself.

I like to think that I stopped myself short of “success” because I realized I didn’t really want to die, but it was more just that it was a lot more painful than I had expected, which probably means I didn’t want to die enough to be willing to endure that much pain. So, I got back on my feet, untied the tie, and went back to bed.

I’m telling that story because I realize that for someone to go through with that and endure that much pain, it means they really want to die.

Since last night, just about every news item has been about how Robin Williams must have been hiding a lot of pain under the “mask” of his comedic performance. That’s bullshit. He was pretty open about his problems with depression, mental illness, and addiction. It’s true that, more than a lot of performers, Mr. Williams always seemed to be “on” when in public, and I used to think he was probably more interesting when he stopped performing. But we’re all performing, to some extent. Every human being must of necessity get up every morning and try to project normality, even though there’s at least a little crazy in all of us. We have to look like we’re functioning at least at a minimal level; those who can’t project that image end up in an institution or on the street.

But depression is something way beyond everyday problems. It’s not a problem of being sad all the time. It’s not a lack of self-esteem. It’s not feeling hopeless or worthless or dead inside. It’s all of those things and much more, and it almost always seems to come from no reason. It’s like a shark in a feeding frenzy, mindlessly and efficiently tearing apart everything that makes your life worth living. If you look into the cold, black eye of depression, you see no emotion, no compassion, nothing but a machine designed to kill you.

And depression isn’t something you can “beat,” like going into remission with cancer. You learn to cope, you take medication, you get therapy, but it’s still there. Like many people I know, I did very well with a combination of therapy and drugs, but I got overconfident and got off the drugs. I did fine for several months and then earlier this summer, I was fortunate enough to recognize the signs that the depression was creeping back, so I’m back on the drugs and doing fine again.

The reason so many of us think we can beat it and do without drugs or therapy is that, despite knowing it’s a medical condition with known biochemical causes, we still believe somewhere deep inside that it’s “just sadness” or some kind of personal failing. We think we should just be able to suck it up and deal with it. And we can’t.

Suicide is an extraordinarily selfish act, but in that moment, it is impossible to think beyond yourself. The shark circles in ever-tightening rings until you can’t see anything beyond your own misery. When you most need help, it’s beyond your capacity to even think of reaching out to someone else. It’s self-centered not because you have an inflated ego, but because you feel totally empty, totally alone. You just want it all to stop.

Whatever you think of Robin Williams, he was a very gifted man. I have to admit that, although I liked his humor much of the time, I thought it was better in small doses. But it was his dramatic roles that I found amazing. My favorite is the obsessed film developer in “One Hour Photo,” which to this day still creeps me out. And his work in “The Fisher King” and “Good Will Hunting” were brilliant and heartbreaking.

On NPR this morning, they said that he occupied a huge part of our culture and touched countless lives. I know that’s true, but in the end, he was probably like me, believing that it would be better for everyone if he were no longer around.

It isn’t.

I wish there were some brilliant thing I could say that would help people who are struggling with depression. There isn’t. I just hope people learn to recognize its symptoms and get help before it becomes a crisis.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 216 other followers