Shenk writes about Lincoln’s determination to live for the “sacred purpose” to which he was called, but his melancholy never left him; he continued to have “thoughts of death.” It is unclear to me from the article if he continued to actively contemplate suicide. But that phrase has intrigued me the past few days – “thoughts of death.”
From the time I was in early high school until some point during graduate school (after marriage and the arrival of four children), I all too frequently contemplated suicide. Not just the idea, but the ways and means.
But at some point during graduate school, the conviction to live came to me. It was no dramatic moment; perhaps simply every decision not to die strengthened an implicit decision to live. However it happened, the possibility of suicide ended.
But not “thoughts of death.” Sometimes the first realization that I am sinking into that morass of depression – I love the old-fashioned term melancholy; it is much more descriptive – has been the thought, as I lie in bed frantically tired, I just wish I would die.
It is a strong thought, frighteningly so. I used to fight it. But fighting it seemed only to increase its power. Now I just repeat it a few times, like a mantra, and then force my mind elsewhere – mentally work on a story or essay I’m writing, carry on that conversation I’ll never have with someone, plan my classes for the next day. Often a frantic go-around with its own craziness, to be sure. But the thought of death eventually goes away.
Most things go away, eventually. Fifty-three years (close enough) have taught me that this too shall pass is true. Oh, I know that circumstances won’t always pass. But the way we feel about them will. Today they are overwhelming. Tomorrow they will be gone. Or we just won’t care. Or we’ll wonder why we cared. Maybe they’ll even appear funny. (I said maybe!)
For the melancholy, however, it’s not the circumstances that are the driving force. Shenk writes, “in a depressive crisis we might feel bad because something has gone awry. Or we might make things go awry because we feel so bad. Or both.” Indeed. There is no chicken-and-egg question here, nor is there any need for something to be awry for the melancholy to wish for death.
It will come, too. But I am content to let it come in God’s time, and try to remember the star which Sam saw above the reeks of Mordor. The shadow is merely for a time; truth and beauty are forever. I need only cling to them, not create them nor even, at any given moment, see them.