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A Place to Land: Lost and Found in an Unlikely Friendship

A Dividend of Darkness

I have spent much of the past few years battling depression. When I emerge from one of those relentless, frightening periods, I try to construct some sense of what I've taken from the experience --- what I've learned and how I've changed. But I never come up with much, except an increasing terror that I might fall again.

One of the dividends of long exposures to the darkness is a greater sensitivity to the light. To find yourself caught in relentless shadows that are not subject to day or hour, to effort, or to help or even to love or prayer --- just the passage of an indeterminate amount of time --- is to plunge to a level of excruciating helplessness. Our lives are illuminated in so many ways, only a fraction by our own effort and design. When the light fades, any built-in ability to deregulate, to make due with less, to automatically sharpen our sensibilities is impaired by our dependence upon the cheap light all around us. A few of us know what it is like to exist against our will in a gray fog so bleak it's impossible to see our own hands in front of us.

We are reminded that we know the world much less well than we thought. It's humbling and bruising to exist in this darkness. There are so many ways that shadows lengthen and loom, threaten to cover the difference between day and night. To be stuck in the dark puts us on notice --- for the fragility of our safety and survival. Our world narrows to the simple environs we can move around in, to people who depend on us or who we depend upon for care. The world constricts, and self-preservation is the only name of the game.

Depression is one such darkness. It is all the more frustrating because this personal disaster is internally driven or, in other words, always feels like "my own fault." I have written about depression. How it slowly sucks the air from all the well-being in any room. How your strongest desire is to escape. Until you realize any room will become a tomb within minutes of your entry. One tiny corner of your mind yells out, "This will end. It will end like before." But the rest of you can't see things coming out well.

And then, you're always totally surprised and grateful as hell when they do.

Few of us are gifted with an innocent and universal compassion. We have to stub our own toes, crash our own cars, hurt ourselves or those we love. Then we come to realize the infinite combinations and permutations of mistake, evil, rotten luck, or bad karma that the world dishes out. The plain horror at the multiplicity of ways that things can go bad. The minimal power that we, mere humans, often have to stop those bad things or, for that matter, to even see them coming.

By my mid-forties, it's finally become clear to me that perhaps two of the only things that generate profit from the currency of suffering are the slow accumulation of wisdom and compassion. But I'm beginning to think that, in this life, they're worth a lot.

A Place to Land: Lost and Found in an Unlikely Friendship
by by Martha Manning

  • paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • ISBN-10: 0345450574
  • ISBN-13: 9780345450579