The other day I invited you to write your own “This I Believe” essay like the ones read over NPR. Beyond Blue reader Larry Parker/Doxieman122 (who is a candidate for the Member of the Month) blew me away with his. I hope you submitted it to NPR, by the way, Larry! You can find others by checking out the “This I Believe” discussion thread at Group Beyond Blue at Beliefnet’s Community. Thanks for such a great read!
Dear Father in heaven, I’m not a praying man, but if you’re up there and you can hear me [as he cries] show me the way… show me the way. – George Bailey, “It’s a Wonderful Life”
There is a reason, I think, that rain is used as a metaphor for our tears and sadness. It’s a Biblical metaphor on numerous occasions – “the rain falls on the just and the unjust.” A hint of sadness helps us remember the sweetness in life, just as rain helps grow the crops; but a flood of rain drowns the crops as in Iowa right now.
I’ve never experienced a scene in a movie with more desperation than Jimmy Stewart sitting at Martini’s bar after learning that Uncle Billy has lost the BaileyBuilding and Loan’s money and he will be arrested for embezzlement. But I’ve experienced that level of desperation routinely – every few months – for more than a dozen years – thanks to my bipolar disorder.
Yet of course, in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” George’s suicidalness isn’t the end; it’s the beginning. George, of course, let go his own solipsism, on the verge of jumping off a bridge, when he saw a drowning man he felt a primal urge to save – who turned out to be his otherworldly savior.
Realizing such things can happen, I believe, is how you survive the unsurvivable. And that’s something I’ve come to believe as well about life as well as near-death.
I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me… but it’s hard to stay mad, when there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst… And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life… You have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m sure. But don’t worry… you will someday. – Lester Burnham, “American Beauty.”
In the story, of course, Lester (played by Kevin Spacey) says this when his heart had literally burst – he had just been murdered by his neighbor, Colonel Frank Fitts, played by Chris Cooper.
The famous closing monologue of “American Beauty,” to me, wonderfully illustrates the frontier between the rain of depression and the dream of hope. The question is, how do you realize that before death?
First, of course, like Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey, you have to realize you have something to live for – a significant other, children, parents, friends, in his case a whole town. And not least, YOURSELF. To truly believe that every life is a wonderful life – that every biography, no matter how seemingly bizarre or mundane, contains the essence of the human struggle, and that even as one is cursed by the need to struggle, one is also blessed by the process of going through it.
Then, you have to believe there is a way – through medication, if you have depression, but also through diet, through exercise, through therapy, through support groups, and in my case through a copious, Socratic and Jesuit-influenced education that only left me ever more curious about the world – that you can actually find a purpose in life, and then believe that “happiness” in the cosmic sense can happen even when our moods are cr*ppy.
George Bailey’s purpose was saving BedfordFalls. And at least Lester Burnham realized his purpose WASN’T chasing teen nymphets before he died.
Haven’t discovered what mine is yet, but I believe I’m getting closer. One clue comes from Smokey Robinson’s song “Tears of a Clown” – “Just like Pagliacci did, I try to keep my sadness hid.”
No, no I don’t. And nor should anyone else if they don’t want to. I describe myself on my Beliefnet homepage as a “depression activist,” and that’s not far from the truth.
I also believe that sometimes, just as the thunderstorms of depression can comes from out of the blue, so can blessings of new, wonderful people in one’s life.
For the battle of the sexes can be energizing, as George and Lester (even if dysfunctionally) realized in different ways – and so did:
Well, I believe in the soul … the small of a woman’s back, the hanging curve ball, high fiber, good scotch, that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, overrated crap. I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I believe there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter. I believe in the sweet spot, soft-core pornography, opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve and I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days. – Crash Davis, “Bull Durham”
And thus begins the fun in life … my Crash Davis speech….
But I’ll say first that I also believe sometimes we don’t know what’s best for us. It seems watching “Bull Durham” that Crash and Annie would make by far the best couple – yet we ultimately come to understand why Nuke and Annie, and Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon in real life, end up together.
I believe I desperately need that perspective and patience to understand as well. And at least I’m trying. But here are some impatient observations:
I believe if you want to know how I feel when I am hypomanic, listen to U2’s “Vertigo.” Over and over and over again on an iPod shuffle.
I can’t believe “I Am Woman” by Helen Reddy for understandable reasons, but I do believe in “You and Me Against the World” in intimate relationships.
I believe Ayrton Senna was the greatest athlete of the 20th century.
I believe Jorge Luis Borges was the greatest author of the 20th century. (Vladimir Nabokov was a close second.)
I believe Javerts do exist to people’s Valjeans, Salieris to people’s Mozarts. I’ve lived it.
I believe military family life is the equivalent of Iraq or Afghanistan for kids and spouses. Some may survive the battle, but the more sensitive are doomed. (And I believe the decision-making behind the Iraq War makes Vietnam look like the ultimate right cause in retrospect, which is saying something – though it may explain John McCain’s contortions on the issues.)
I believe Catholic education is as enlightened as Catholic doctrine is stuck in the Inquisition. (And don’t even get me started on Opus Dei.)
I believe I am commanded by G-d or the Universe to write. I could not possibly NOT be a writer.
I believe Beyond Blue is the best blog about depression on the Internet, period. (And I like a few of the others, don’t get me wrong — though there are famously others I don’t like, too.)
I believe my biggest success story is staying alive.
I believe the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is far better than horoscopes at finding out people’s commonalities and differences. (I’m INFP.)
I believe the Bell Curve (the concept and the book by Charles Murray, either way) is noxious.
While I have a soft spot for blonde-haired all-American women like our blogmistress, I believe women from Latin-influenced backgrounds are the most beautiful women in the world. (Note the ethnic ancestry of the lady I am currently dating …)
I believe Barack Obama is the most inspirational figure to emerge in this country in 40 years. I also believe that, sadly, there is a good chance that – like Martin Luther King, who never aspired to the office, and Robert F. Kennedy, who did – he may not become president.
(No coincidence that two of my favorite songs are both from 1968, Dion’s “Abraham, Martin and John” and Elvis’ “If I Can Dream,” which instantly realized that a great chance for America had sadly passed – though in Elvis’ case, urging that we rally around the dreams the ’60s activists had. Oh, by the way, I believe Elvis rocked the Beatles.)
I believe the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment, an abomination in a civilized society. But I believe sexual abuse of a child, in some ways, is even worse. So I might be willing to consider capital punishment in that instance — as long as it is VERY cruel and VERY unusual.
I believe America’s cultural tendencies toward perfectionism, type-A personalities and the Puritan work ethic kill people. (So does Scientology. And so does “The Secret.” Oprah may too.)
I believe one of the solutions to global warming may be one I’ve practiced in my own life for several years – give up your car and live in urban, mass transit-friendly neighborhoods. (Which makes it conveniently intellectually consistent to work for an environmental agency, LOL.)
I believe Will Rogers had a wonderful philosophy toward life – “A stranger is a friend I haven’t met yet.” Too bad I’m a bit too world-weary to practice it. But at least my dog does.
(Oh, I believe my dog is the cutest dog in the world – and in my case, there’s photographic proof.)
I believe Taylor ham is New Jersey’s greatest contribution to the world. (Taste it, and you’ll see why I named it over Edison, Sinatra, the Sopranos and Springsteen.)
I believe Georgetown may not be America’s best university (tough to argue against Harvard or Yale or Princeton) but it’s top 10, not top 25 like U.S. News says.
I believe Motown is the greatest record company ever (at least in its ’60s and ’70s incarnation). Berry Gordy was an SOB, but he was a genius. Oh, and the Tops were better than the Temps, Marvin Gaye was better than the Tops, and I love, love, love them all.
I believe alcoholism is a family-destroying disease. (Check that – I KNOW that.)
I believe the idea we are less than human unless we add further humans to an overcrowded planet is monstrous. (Intrinsically, and for “The Handmaid’s Tale”-type dictatorship the most extreme fundamentalist breeders, like the Quiverfulls, favor.)
I believe Colorado is the most beautiful state in America.
I believe in ethnic diversity. I also believe newspapers’ obsession with ethnic diversity, powered by ’60s student activist editors, is destroying them even more than the Internet.
I believe Job was cursed by an angry Old Testament G-d. I also believe it possible that St. Paul, in 2 Corinthians 12, was also cursed by a less angry New Testament G-d for His own purposes. Despite that, I no longer believe that one should rail against G-d for one’s infirmities. It’s possible when we die we may find there is an entirely different explanation (indeed, as Lester appeared to find in “American Beauty”); and besides, we must continue with our lives in any case.
I believe “Six Degrees of Separation” isn’t just a play or a movie, it’s life.
I believe, even more as the years pass since 1994, that there is great wisdom in “Forrest Gump.” And speaking of Gump-like characters …
I believe, like Don Quixote, that sometimes it is most important to hold onto our dreams ESPECIALLY when they are impossible. Or at least, they seem impossible. That tilting at windmills is not always a bad thing.
whether you believe in G-d or just believe that this world is incredibly random (and as everyone on Beliefnet knows, I wrestle with that question), the one conclusion both of those beliefs converge toward is that, in some sense, nothing is impossible.