This evening I watched a recent NOVA documentary on Alzheimer’s research, and I suddenly recalled a blessing I said to my daughter in the hours after she was born. In my first moments alone with her, I skipped over introducing myself to her, for I figured that I was no stranger to her. I held her facing me and said, “may people feel as much pride and joy in caring for you when you are old as they did when you were so young.”
Can there be any better fortune than to be cherished at our end as much as we were at our beginning?
I don’t like Internet shame culture. I figure that everyone has bad days, and I hope that none of mine ever become viral. Because of this, I will not name specific locations of the incidents I am about to mention. In the past twenty-four hours, I have twice witnessed adults scolding elderly people as if they were reprimanding misbehaving children. I feel that this a new low, and I sure hope it doesn’t become acceptable. It seems that fuses everywhere are growing shorter, but this is a brand of loose cannon I don’t want anywhere. These confrontations I saw were over trivial things, battles not worth choosing at all. The first happened in an art gallery. An attendant yelled at an elderly woman for signing the wrong guest register. Then this morning I saw a woman grocery shopping and heard her yell, “I SAID EXCUSE ME!” to elderly couple choosing canned vegetables. What in the world is going on here? I don’t know how to react, and I feel bad for saying nothing at the time. The incidents were momentary, and I was afraid that joining the fray would be like throwing a lit match on a pile of kindling.
I have found a way to turn the secret life of this Walter Mitty to my advantage. From my childhood onward, I relished daydreams of being able to sing well enough to get major radio airplay. These fantasies did not involve writing songs or even putting a fresh twist on a cover song. I often could not resist imagining what it would be like to sing a hit song with perfect fidelity to the original. For years, this was an embarrassing habit, for I don’t sing all that well. To even entertain the possibility of being able to sing like Aretha Franklin bordered on a delusion of grandeur. For a time, this contributed to depression because I kept thinking that I was not entitled to imagine doing the impossible. Isn’t that what an imagination is uniquely suited for?
When I had agoraphobia, my therapist suggested that I imagine being successful at venturing out instead of staying home over catastrophic predictions of what could go wrong away from home. At the time I considered that it would do no harm to try to imagine success at something practical even if the outcome did prove negative. Life is full of false predictions, so go with ones that are uplifting (kind of like it being better to be a fool with faith than a fool without it).
It took me more years to see that there was also benefit to imagining success at something impractical, like being able to sing a hit. Just let go of the embarrassment of likely failure (there will only ever be one Aretha, after all), and imagine mastery, the capacity to inspire others. There will never be a need to test such a skill, at least in my case.
Life is full of subtle delusions. Choose ones that will move you forward. The theatre of your mind is your show. There is no harm in creating a positive phantasm rather than a disaster. Each of us is an event that won’t be encored. We are all as special and valuable as our heroes.
I love data, to wrap my mind in it like burrowing under a blanket on a cold day. Trivial to me is the quality of such data, though I do enjoy correcting errors when I find them, like picking a just noticed blackhead. It’s not like I need to have faith in data. Rather I need the distraction. I wonder if it would ever be possible to create a narrative from a spreadsheet. Maybe a spreadsheet is the tool that can knit data into a blanket of comfort for the mind.
The title refers to what I am apt to quote when I can think of little or nothing else, a reminder that not all hope is lost in some regard of my life. Lately I’ve felt depression returning, and I thought that some writing was in order to clear out the debris, like when Peter’s elderly mother gets divorced on Family Guy and bats fly out of her nether regions upon her freedom, vowing that must tell the story of their sexless captivity. I seem to have plenty of thoughtful conversations but rarely explore these ideas more deeply in print. If only writing were as effortless as conversation. While I am introverted, I am not so reserved that I feel the pressure to perform while speaking as I do writing. Thus the talking is frequent (and only to a few select confidants) while the writing is rare. Every few years I think that I should write more, then quickly I am suffocated by my expectations and abandon this hope, more depressed than before. Until recently, I had been well for several years, with only fleeting episodes of depression resolved through focusing on the present moment of small steps toward some tangible long-term goal, such as fitness or a better credit rating.
This strategy has had the positive effect of improving my health and easing my stress over finances, but this focus has been shallow to my mind. I am stalling in how much I can improve on concrete matters, and my neglect of deeper matters lowered my inner defenses against loss. Also, can I still see who I am and the value I have regardless of whether I succeed or fail? I am worried that my consciousness has become more shallow, but I see and feel hints that I can still dive into the depths, and not just the depths of depression.