|Rosie heading home, the Italian albergue in the background|
Even though we have good pilgrims, and we are healthy, and I have lots of interesting plans to look forward to, I still feel frighteningly depressed some days. In years past I´ve suffered from clinical depression -- a mental condition with physical causes linked to brain chemistry and heredity. I don´t need a reason to become depressed. Life can be dandy, but if my brain is not manufacturing enough seratonin, I feel as if I am living underwater. Everything, even activities and ideas and disciplines I usually love, becomes colorless, dull, boring... and ultimately, meaningless.
Depressed is a very self-absorbed, numb, and sad way to be. When the symptoms start showing up, I get scared. I know there is little I can do to forestall a depression. I can´t prevent it, any more than I can wash it off once it´s oozed over me. So this time I am letting it happen.
Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist teacher who I love, says to welcome it like any other guest. "Hello, depression. Come on in and take a seat. Have a cup of tea. Where have you been, all these years?"
This way, it keeps its distance. It is not me, it is not "my depression." It is just someone who is in the house today, and probably tomorrow. He will wear out his welcome, but he´ll eventually move on.
Wise people say depression usually has something to teach you, if you stop whining long enough to listen to it. Me, I think depression is like nausea. If you fight it, it just lasts longer and makes you more miserable. Best to just puke and get it over with.
Or maybe it is more like plunging into the deep end of the swimming pool, without grabbing a lungful of breath first. Sound and light and your voice are all shut down and silenced. You feel a desperation inside, a struggle to re-surface, but the water only slows your efforts to move upward again, toward the living world.
But if you let the momentum of your dive carry you downward first, you eventually feel yourself touch the tiles of the pool-bottom. And once you hit bottom, well. You can fold your arms alongside your body, hunker down, and then blast yourself like a torpedo upward and out again into the light! No struggling needed. Just momentum. Just flowing, downward, bottomward... At the bottom, there is something to push against.
I thought all these thoughts out on my patio, with my feet up on the edge of the well. The sun shone, the pavement was littered with dog bodies of several sizes, worn-out from a long morning´s mouse-hunt out in the fields. Paddy opened a bottle of wine, brought up at random from the depths of the bodega earlier that day. I recognized the label: Bodegas de Abalos makes red Tempranillo wine in La Rioja, Spain´s popular wine region. The label said "Crianza 2005," which means it was aged a couple of years before I bought it, and was already judged table-ready at that time. It was nothing to write home about, but it wasn´t bad... and it was remarkably cheap: 2 Euros a bottle. I bought three cases.
I put them in the bodega. I forgot they were there.
I took my glass, had a sniff, then a taste... After three years in the cool darkness, that average table wine has ripened into the full-bodied, wide-open, crisp and delicious Reserva that made Rioja famous. Wow!
Playing on the little outdoor boom-box Bebo y Cigala, a wizened Cuban pianist and a Spanish flemenco singer, howling through a bossa-nova heartbreak. From his cage little Bob sang along. And in the hand not holding the wine glass I had a paperback book called "How to Live: A Life of Montaigne" -- an excellent, fascinating book (even if it is a little highbrow).
Books, birdsong, bossa-nova, good dogs, and an agreeable mate bearing Rioja Reserva. What more could I want?
If depression must hang out here he can stay for tea. But he´s not getting any of the wine.