We have trees that have not turned color at all, but there are the beginnings of fallen leaves covering our lawn. “The golden days of October are at hand…and the earth has begun already to put on her garniture of glory.” Charles J. Peterson.* The scenery is glorious around here right now; we have so many varieties of trees. Driving around this region, the hills look like a multi-colored tapestry. We lived in the Catskills for a few years, and I have to admit that the fall colors there are more amazing. Even on rainy days, the trees between Livingston Manor and Roscoe glowed in a way that seemed to spread sunshine. But I’ll take what we have here; my euonymus trees have hanging pink berries against deep wine leaves, the dogwoods are golden and red against the dark green of the spruce trees; everything looks like one of my friend, Faye’s autumn paintings. She captures autumn very well.
Spending more time in the garden has been both refreshing and tiring. I’ve neglected this form of exercise during the hot, summer days, so now I must remind sulky muscles that they are supposed to be able to pull gout-weed plants and do all that bending over to reach chick weed. And the muscles are reluctant! Fortunately, Kerm has been cleaning out the gardens while I’m still trying to collect energy. If we were to leave all this weedy mess until spring, we’d be really, really sorry. A soggy mat of weeds, as the snow melts, is quite discouraging in April. And getting rid of the weeds in October has another up-side; working in fresh air will — potentially — help eliminate some of those wakeful hours at night.
There are many reasons for being wakeful at night; so many things that bring worry. The community churches here recently sponsored suicide prevention training. Probably as a result of that discussion, the subject arose at the Friday Women’s Bible study. We talked about the rising rates of suicide — all over the world and especially right here in our small community. Several people offered differing opinions for the black despair that wipes out hope; everything from socialism to drugs to the current cultural norms. Since none of us are mental health professionals, our opinions might not be valid. But we were all in agreement that talking about mental health issues can be difficult because of the lingering biases. It was also agreed that we all need to speak out more courageously and be willing to share from our own experiences. Our communities and churches need to be more welcoming and caring. Instead of feeling uncomfortable or fearful, we need to make ourselves more informed. No matter what the problem, people looking for help should feel accepted and heard. A little discomfort for the listener is a small price to pay if it will, in a small way, help to diminish the despair that seems to be increasingly contagious over much of the world.
I have personally dealt with times of depression and I know that without help, it is easy to spiral downward very quickly. And by help I mean several things, the most important being to find a listener – preferably someone trained to listen effectively. Of course, some few people are gifted listeners with no training at all, and that is serendipity. Talking with a physician will also be wise, for medications may be helpful in some situations I personally would try other options first; I didn’t care for the side effects of what I took for a while. But one must weigh the benefits against the annoyances. When in a depressed state, it is always tempting to stay in bed with the pillow over one’s head, but getting out and maybe even helping someone else is almost always therapeutic. Another valid therapy is laughter, which is more healing than the medical community realizes. Humorous reading often adjusts perspective, funny movies give respite from pain and just laughing with friends is super-good medicine. Mary Englebrecht, the well-known illustrator, has a picture of a stern young girl holding a sign that says, “GET OVER IT!!!” That admonition may work for some things, but never, ever expect that philosophy to be useful for depression, or any other quirk of the brain. Patience, caring and trusting that there will be a light at the end of the tunnel are far more useful. Clinging to the simple faith that each of us is here for a reason is probably the most valuable antidote, and should be considered a life-raft, holding one up until help comes.
After several episodes over the years, I’ve learned to recognize the symptoms of depression and frequently can begin the remedies. But often, depression “creeps in on little cat feet” like the Sandburg poem about fog. We are so busy and distracted, that our brains can slip in the change in perspective very gradually and quietly. And it brings with it a personal fog that often obliterates good sense, reality and hope for the days ahead. We all need to be aware. If you are never afflicted by this disability, do not be smug — be very, very grateful. And be a patient and good listener with those for whom it is a frequent battle.
Speaking of fun and laughter, many know that Kerm and I find entertainment in auctions. We attended one a couple of weeks ago at Bostwick’s Auction House, and it was obvious to us that the auctioneer is nearly as adept as social media at following our likes and dislikes. She has an amazing memory for people’s preferences. When something comes up for auction that she thinks we would like, she sends an inquiring eye our way to see if we are paying attention and/or bidding. A Galileo thermometer was being brought to the front, and the attendant carrying it looked our way inquiringly. Kerm stage-whispered: “We already have one!”
For us, auctions are a mode of amusement that beats clubbing or movies. It satisfies our curiosity to see what sells for how much and to imagine the stories that go along with that antique corn planter or the lovely old covered tureen. We have friends (and a few family members) who wonder why we’d want all of that “old stuff” —- “used stuff” —- “clutter”! I don’t really perceive items as old, used stuff; I see them as objects someone else has loved needing to find a new and appreciative home. Of course, at our age there needs to be a limit to amassing anything. We mustn’t make our down-sizing any worse than it already is, so we’ve put a curb on our enthusiasm. There is definitely a limit to what our sons and their families can be convinced to take. So now we restrain ourselves, even when the bidding price is only $5 on an item that should go for $50. It bothers me to see Limoges china go for nothing while a rusty advertising sign sells for large dollars. But – everyone’s values are very personal.
Speaking of values, I recently got a hand-written thank you note that surely added value to my day. Notes and letters are rare in all our lives, I think. Most of us lean toward Email, texting or Instagrams. So much easier and quicker! But a hand-written letter or note is a connection for both the writer and recipient and really lights up a day. I’m always a little disappointed when a Christmas card comes with nothing but a signature. I’m glad someone cares enough to send us a card, but I’d really rather know how and what they are doing.
In Junior-high, I acquired a couple of pen pals via our church youth group newsletter. Carol was from Nebraska; she and I had the same first and last names. Rebecca was from the Philippines. We wrote faithfully for years. I met Carol from Nebraska when my family traveled to Colorado one summer. We had a wonderful getting-acquainted time (she also had a really cute brother!) and continued writing until we both moved too many times and had families to distract us. Rebecca, from the Philippines, I met in Philadelphia where she had come for nurse’s training. We also corresponded for many years. Both of these mostly on-paper relationships enriched my life and broadened my understanding of lives different than mine. When my mother-in-law and sister were in skilled care facilities, writing letters (well, actually, typing for my fingers are too arthritic to write well) made me feel as though I was doing something to help brighten their days. A letter brings connection and creates a delightful moment in time for the recipient. Perhaps I’ll give everyone note paper for Christmas. ☺
Day to day living is full of valuable moments. It may be that unexpected letter, but it could also be a cardinal’s whistle at twilight, a late rose in bloom beneath the weeds or a quick hug from someone you love. At this time of year, each golden autumn day is wonderful and amazing. Count those moments as one would caress beads on a rosary. They all add up to joy in life in the midst of a world gone slightly mad.
*Charles J. Peterson — American naval historian, author and publisher. 1818-1887.
Carol may be reached at email@example.com.