There are things that make me sad and lonely.
For instance, an empty baseball diamond. You see them at city parks all over the place. They look particularly forlorn in the winter and early spring, covered with leaves or even a blanket of snow. They sit there waiting for warmer weather and children playing, like elderly grandparents whose family lives out of town and are visited only on summer vacations.
Those baseball fields are even lonelier in the summer, though, when they mostly remain empty. Kids don’t play pickup games the way we did when I was a boy. Little leagues still exist, and organized games make those fields come alive now and then. But games like you see on the movie “The Sandlot,” they are few and far between.
The two diamonds at Jaycee Park in St. Charles, Mo., a few blocks from where I grew up and where I live now, is a lonely place most of the year. I sense that loneliness whenever I drive by.
“Don’t cry because it’s over,” Dr. Seuss once said, but “smile because it happened.”
That’s something I’m trying to work on in my life. It’s a challenge for me because sadness is one of the prevailing aspects of having clinical depression. There are days when I wake up and it’s just waiting there, like a cloud. You work with it and through it the rest of the day, pushing against something resistant every step.
So it takes work.
Basically, in the words of my therapist, I have to re-wire my brain. The automatic sadness that pervades things has the brain focused on everything in a negative way. I have to force, with focused energy, everything in my mind to have a positive spin. That begins by noticing something good and letting that feeling sink deep into the consciousness.
As an example, I was driving to work one morning and noticed the sun was shining. Not a big deal, necessarily, but in this case it was. We had had so many rainy days that I almost took overcast skies for granted. Plus, I don’t work near a window in my building, so even when the sun does pop out during the day I don’t get to experience it.
I became very aware of the warmth of the sun on my arms that particular day. It felt good, actually made me smile. I found myself thinking of memories of sunshine – watching the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team practice during spring training in Florida, sitting on a beach with my family, or cutting the grass on a warm summer’s day.
With great encouragement, I allowed those memories and the feel of sunshine sweep over me. I experienced goodness and savored it. And for a while sadness was melted away.
“Do not abandon yourselves to despair,” St. John Paul the Great once said. “We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.”
Being a man of faith, I always have something good and positive into which I can plug my heart and brain. I have faith in a good God. So when times are difficult, I think of my blessings. I focus on being grateful. I ponder goodness in family and friends and nature. I am aware that I am loved. I think about my relationship with Jesus. I pray.
And I choose joy.
Henri J.M. Nouwen, the late Catholic priest and great spiritual writer, said, “Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.” Whether you have depression or not, that’s a necessary approach to life for all of us.
I have especially been considering this throughout the last 16 months. My mom, who is 75 and was incredibly active, had a baseball-sized tumor removed from her brain in January, 2014. The recovery was very slow and difficult. My parents and the rest of the family finally had accepted that she never would return to her old activity — and then a couple of weeks ago we learned the tumor had returned. Aggressively.
She had surgery again Tuesday (May 19). As I’m writing this, I’m in an intensive care unit waiting room. Mom is slowing waking from her anesthesia. We don’t know the plot of this chapter of a story that is being written one day at a time.
Is joy possible? We have to believe that it is. We can’t give in to the sadness or loneliness, the fear and concern. We must make sure our brains are wired positively. We must have faith.
We have to choose joy.