Merton sinks into adolescent depression . . .
Of course the whole family was there on the dock. But the change as devastating. With my heart ready to explode with immature emotions I suddenly found myself surrounded by all the cheerful and peaceful and comfortable solicitudes of home. Everybody wanted to talk. Their voices were full of questions and information. They took me for a drive on Long Island and showed me where Mrs. Hearst lived and everything. But I only hung my head out of the window of the car and watched the green trees go swirling by, and wished that I were dead.
I would not tell anybody what was the matter with me, and this reticence was the beginning of a kind of estrangement between us. From that time on no one could be sure what I was doing or thinking. I would go to New York and I would not come home for meals and I would not tell anyone where I had been.
I'm sure we've all been here at some point or other in our lives--a feeling of utter devastation and abandonment because we've lost what we thought were the loves of our lives. So, what to do with that? Well, teenagers turn inward, withdraw from all who care about them. They rebel. Disappear, physically and/or emotionally. What Merton describes here is so familiar to me that I could almost have written this passage myself.
It is difficult trying to find your path after someone you care about deeply flits away, a hungry hummingbird looking for better nectar. It's a little like being in a strange countryside without a map or cell phone or road signs. You just don't know which way to go, and the night is moonless, starless.
I've been in this place many times. I suffer from vertigo occasionally, and the experience is very similar. Not being able to find stable ground. But I have had one anchor through most of these moments: my daughter. She has kept me going during some pretty difficult days. She's beautiful, graceful, and empathetic. She cares about everything and everyone deeply.
Around my birthday last year, I was experiencing one of these moments of emotional vertigo. Feeling very lost. At sea. My daughter was in the middle of her first semester of college, majoring in pre-med, working her first job. She was making new friends, engaging in new activities. It was her first taste of independence, and she was loving it.
But, she also knew that I was struggling. I try to keep my problems separate from my daughter. She's had to deal with a lot in her 19 years, and I've been really conscious about letting her be a kid and do kid things. I don't want her to look back on her childhood and teenage years with melancholy, like Thomas Merton.
A couple weeks past my birthday, I came home from work, and my daughter handed me a wrapped present. She'd pre-ordered it many weeks prior, and she couldn't wait for me to unwrap it. I sat down, read the card she had chosen. That made me cry. And then I opened the present. It was a copy of Sharon Olds' newest collection of poems, Arias. It had just been released. That made me cry even more. She knew I wanted the book, but that I didn't want to spend the money on it because we were struggling financially. So, she took some of her work money and bought it for me.
I was speaking to sister-in-law last week about my daughter, and I said, "I don't know what I did to deserve a kid like her."
I've known my sister-in-law for most of her life. She's the baby sister I never had. I'm still struggling with those feelings I was having around my birthday. My sister-in-law knows this. She said to me, "I do. All the love, compassion, and genuine respect for others has boiled over into this additional human. Too much goodness in one man. There needed to be an additional human to continue it."
I said, "She makes me feel like I've succeeded in something. She's my Nobel Prize."
"Exactly!!!" my sister-in-law said.
I carry Arias with me everywhere. To work and school. It's my reminder, when I'm feeling very alone, that I've done something right in my life. And that I am loved.
And for that miracle, Saint Marty gives thanks.
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