Two summers ago, my friend Anne became depressed. Her depression was guided by something solemn, mysterious, and in its own way, terrifying. Fearing that I would catch it too, that contagion of morose misery and unrelenting disturbance. I stood away. Most of her friends also stood away as Anne seemed to lose sight of that which mattered to her before she retreated into the shadows. Previously a girl who exuded such harmony and light, incredibly warm, friendly, and sociable.
Anne faced the world with a confident optimism and it seemed that nothing could disturb someone with such strong equanimity and social grace. I, and many others standing aside, observed with sorrow as the person we used to know so well and love so well transformed. Anne, in her blue t-shirt and faded jeans, became a hesitant, anxious, aggressively nervous person who brushed her hair endlessly with her fingers and mumbled out phrases whenever she made a feeble effort to make conversation.
While I guessed but never inquired due to my protective cowardice, fate eventually took my hand and it all came to a crisis after one phone call. In late August I was brushing my teeth when I heard my phone ring, and with toothpaste in my mouth, I ran to catch the call. It was Anne. She spoke with agitation and fumbled with the lines she seemed to have crafted hours ago in preparation for this. She finally told me in a tired and tormented way that after her grandmother died of colon cancer she stopped feeling happy.
She saw her grandmother wither away and in the end the pain was too much to bear. Though we knew her grandmother was dying we never really talked about it as she never spoke of the event that cascaded through her life and left it forbidding and forsaken. Her life had transformed into something that was engulfed like a swamp with the air of solitude and sadness. What had previously existed, that golden pond kind of metaphor of sweetness and light, was indeed no more. Apparently, she had seen her grandmother heave her last breaths and her eyes close for the last time.
The shattering effect of witnessing the destruction of a life once so vigorous and always so precious shook her to the depths of her soul. Her life lost its compass of control and she no longer knew what to believe as her orientation towards life had to contend with the ultimate certainty of death. Her fatalism was hard to believe, the immensity of her worries and her grave doubts was immense as it was impressive. I felt, that, my thoughts were so trivial when compared to her philosophical poignancy and her infinite compassion for someone who was suffering.
As her grandmother lay dying, Anne fought her grandmother’s death as well as anyone could. As I knew I could not. Listening to her I felt as if I had been so disgracefully wrong and sought redemption. I wanted to not be so numb to everything that involved anything unpleasant. I wanted to love life in spite of knowledge that it’s a scarce thing and much too brief in the end. Yet, in spite of life’s evanescence, I do one can still acknowledge how finite it is while being able to appreciate the infinity of reflection and most powerfully, the mystery and maintenance of love.
Anne laughs again, and I laugh with her. Yet we still both stand silent sometimes and communicate that we understand how life can turn around so quickly and extinguish itself so quickly and sometimes without any warning at all. For that it is a treasure beyond all other treasures, and for that lives have greater ultimate meaning. As for redemption, I’m working on it and every day I benefit from being able to experience that day. To breathe in the air and engage myself in what makes me happy and sad, loving life even when it must end. In the end, I should be the better for it.