Galaxy Cluster Abell 1689

When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Last night we rode the el up to Loyola University to see author Greg Mortensen. His book, Three Cups of Tea, has been on the bestseller list for about two years. Handsome Hunk has read it, I haven’t.

On this rainy night, Mortensen spoke about how he spent his early years in Tanzania, moved to the states and as an adult stumbled into a Pakistani village after a failed attempt to climb a mountain in the vicinity. In the remote village, he is gripped by the meager education available to the eager-to-learn children, and the situation of the girls and women in society. He makes a strong case that if you educate a girl, you educate a village: educated women are more likely to pass along their reading skills, make thoughtful decisions and live healthier lives.

Truthfully I was in one of my slightly pissy moods last night. Sitting on bleachers for nearly three hours wasn’t exactly the way I wanted to spend my evening. To me there also seemed to be a bit of cultish atmosphere to the crowd. But I ultimately was glad to be there. Mortensen’s story is impressive, and bringing schools to remote areas in Pakistan is a worthy endeavor that has touched many lives.

At one point, the author flashed Emerson’s quote on the screen, “When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.” I pondered this as I squirmed uncomfortably with the elbow of the woman next to me jabbed into my arm and the overhanging backside of the woman in front of me preventing me from moving my legs. The quote got me to thinking about a book I read almost 20 years ago, Care of the Soul by Thomas Moore. A particular chapter, “Gifts of Depression” has stayed with me over the years. We tend to be a society that believes we should be happy, happy all the time. Feeling a bit blue? How about some Paxil or Zoloft? Trust me, I know the help these drugs can provide to people who are in the bleakest states and the blackest holes. That’s not what I’m referring to here.

Moore helped me realize that sadness and melancholy can have a purpose in our lives and should be embraced rather than repelled. When there is darkness, that may be the only time we stop and see the normally invisible “stars” that can illuminate our lives, bring deeper meaning to our existence or point us to a different path. This paperback has survived my annual bookshelf purges. Maybe it’s time to read it again. Here’s a paragraph from Moore’s book:

Depression grants the gift of experience not as a literal fact but as an attitude toward your self. You get a sense of having lived though something, of being older and wiser. You know that life is suffering, and that knowledge makes a difference. You can’t enjoy the bouncy, carefree innocence of youth any longer, a realization that entails both sadness because of the loss, and pleasure in a new feeling of self-acceptance and self-knowledge. This awareness of age has a halo of melancholy around it, but it also enjoys a measure of nobility.

In these times of economic downturn, job losses and global strife, I know that many people are experiencing the “darkness.” One of the many positives of aging is that I feel as if I’ve learned how to weather some of the storms (and mine have been comparatively minor), and at times even avert them entirely. I’ve always thought of these “down” times as an elevator. When my mood seems to be plunging and I have no control, I know from experience that it will eventually stop or hit bottom, and then it will start to rise. It makes it less daunting to know this about myself. I try to use these times to gain insights, make changes or try something new. And  sometimes I just ride these “down” times out. I believe in my resilience.

Sorry Greg, I didn’t listen very well, but you got me thinking.