It has been a jumbly tumbly kind of week, and I found myself short on joy. It went kind of like this:
In the Harry Potter books there are creatures called Dementors. They are dark cloaked, floating figures that attach themselves to their victims and extract their life force. In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Remus Lupin says that if you experience a Dementor’s kiss “every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you.”
That is how I feel on Tuesday. Like the joy had been sucked out of me by a gang of Dementors. In the book, after Harry has been attacked by a Dementor, but saved at the last minute, he is offered bits of chocolate as a cure. I’m sure I have my own cure for what is ailing me, but I can’t seem to find it. I feel like I am stumbling around in the dark, waving my hands in front of me, hoping to run into something useful.
Mid-morning I trip over the idea of visiting Howard, my acupuncturist. He fits me in at 2:00, sticks needles in my feet and rubs points on my right ear vigorously while talking about the gophers threatening to eat his crocuses. He suggests I walk in the early morning sunlight, and on my way out the door hands me a stalk of limp rose geranium from a large garbage bag of plants he has rescued from his mother’s house. He says if I take it home and put it in water, I can replant it later and eventually move it outside for the summer. I buried my face in the light, cheery scent. The plant wilted further on my dashboard as I ran errands, but once home, I faithfully plunked the stalk in water and placed it on my desk.
Despite the scent of rose geranium filling my house, I nipped at my children and husband, almost cry when the soup bubbles up and over the pan, and complained loudly about the dishwasher. Tight jawed, I make out long list of holiday chores, a martyr’s list. My husband gathers the girls under his wing and ushers them into the other room, away from my snapping whip.
I can’t figure out what is wrong with me. Is the influenza I battled the previous weekend still circulating through my system disguised as sadness? Am I seething because once again, despite my pledges, I have stepped onto the holiday bus and am being driven into Christmas excess, a ride that leaves me queasy and resentful? Even more important than the cause, what is the cure?
I wake up this morning determined to feel more like myself. The session with Howard has cleared my head enough that I can see a glimmer of light up ahead. I try several cures throughout the day.
1. I embraced one of my favorite quotes: “Fake it, ’til you make it.” When my husband asked how I am that morning I smiled and say, “Great.”
“Are you pretending?” he asks.
“Yes,” I confess. But I kept on faking it, and it is a relatively stress-free morning getting the girls off to school.
2. I followed Howard’s advice and walk in the morning sun. As I travel down our lane, I see my neighbor’s chickens meeting in the middle of the road. When they see me and my large white dog, they turn and hustle back to their own yard, legs flying and fat bottoms wagging like church ladies running from the Devil. For the first time in awhile, I laughed aloud.
3. Home again, I emailed my husband and apologized, without adding any excuses, for my unpleasant behavior the day before.
4. Before I settle at my desk to work, I wrapped Christmas presents, and even though I muttered and steal glances at the clock–precious, empty-house writing time slipping by–I am glad to cross off that chore (with a flourish) from my list.
None of these things reinstated my joy, but I moved through my cures faithfully. I read once that just going through the motions of daily life can help restore happiness in depressed people. There is a quote about writing by Pearl Buck that I like. “I don’t wait for moods. You accomplish nothing if you do that. Your mind must know it has got to get down to work.”
Even though I didn’t feel the joy, I get down the work of living.
I wake in the night to terrible pain in my stomach. I could not distinguish if it was a stomach bug or stomach muscle strain from a stretch I’d done the day before. It was a long time before it subsided enough for me to fall back asleep.
By mid-morning the pain was back and had extinguished all the light I’d gathered the day before. I called Howard for another appointment. He spent a long time checking my pulses. He said my liver/heart pulse was frail and deep. Tears welled in the corner of my eyes. That was it, my heart felt frail this week and hidden deep within me, just barely pulsing enough to keep my spirit going.
As Howard worked on me, I thought of the Madeleine L’Engle quote I’d read the previous day: “Faith is what makes life bearable, with all its tragedies, and ambiguities and sudden, startling joys.” And then I did the only thing I could think to do, the thing I do every morning upon waking, before I fall asleep at night, and during odd or trying moments during the day, the only other cure that came to mind, I recited a Tibetan prayer–an offering, a plead–that has become worn and familiar in my heart, like a stone caressed and smoothed by water over time.
“May I be filled with lovingkindness. May I be well. May I be peaceful and at ease. May I be happy.”
I felt none of these things as I lay there on the table or when Howard handed me two more stalks of rose geranium for my collection, but I still had a handful of faith that I would again sometime soon.
When I woke Friday morning, my body was still clenching pain, but my spirit was lighter. I dropped off the girls at school, parked the car, and took the dog for a walk in the brisk, morning cold. We circled the school, walked past the Catholic Church, and on further down the bike path along the canal. When I reached the gate to the path, I saw two hawks, feather fluffed against the cold, sitting side-by-side on a telephone wire surveying the wide open fields on the other side of the canal that seemed to run all the way to the foot of the distant mountains and meet in a thin shimmering line. Undisturbed, the dog and I walked, occasionally encountering a pocket of cold air from the bright, icy water running through the ditch. Step by step the week lifted off my shoulders, and as I walked I thought about nothing and everything at the same time. We saw more hawks, and they, like us, were just being with the morning. At the end of the path, we turned and walked back through our former selves. When we reached the gate, I paused. The dog sat looking left and then right. Still thinking of nothing, I turned away from the gate and walked off the path, over a narrow bridge, into the open field. I stumbled slowly over the uneven ground, the dog trailing behind me, sniffing at the generous distribution of cow manure.
We walked until we reached the center of the field, and then I stopped, because suddenly I felt it. I threw open my arms, tilted back my head, and felt sudden, startling joy. It poured from the sky into the very center of my chest. As the dog explored happily, I felt my heart rise to the surface. Faith let go of my cold, red hand, and I knew I was cured. In that field, with the hawks on the telephone wire watching, my joy returned.
I stood there for a while longer, my arms stretching wider and wider. I circled slowly around, the sky different in each direction, the mountains standing patiently, the thin line of the horizon shimmering. Life bearable again, heart beating soundly in my chest, the dog and I headed home.