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The high cost of despair

The high cost of despair

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Mike Pyatt

Mike Pyatt

One needn’t have read the writings of Albert Camus or Jean-Paul Sartre to understand the subject of despair.

The Carpenters popularized a hit, “Rainy Days & Mondays” with these lines, “Hangin’ round with nothin’ to do but frown, Rainy days and Mondays always get me down, What I’ve got they used to call the blues, Nothin’ is really wrong, feelin’ like I don’t belong…“ At times, it’s inexplicable, just a feeling. Most of us survive those times. It’s momentary. Not a way of life. Fleeting. However, when it persists, it can turn ugly, or worse. CDC ranks suicide in the top ten on cause of death.

Listed as a major reason for suicide among teens is loss of hope — total despair. Comedian Robin Williams’ end of life was anything but comedic. Reportedly bipolar with a history of self-medication, and deep depression, he ended his life — at least this earthly one. Some describe these conditions as “dark moments of the soul.” Myriad are the reasons for such moments. The faux “magic” of Tinsel Town has exacted a relentless toll of Hollywood stars and celebrities over time, who’ve sadly chosen suicide.

Initially reported as a “gun accident” most concluded that novelist, Ernest Hemingway, inclined to depression and alcoholism, snuffed out his life in idyllic Sun Valley, Idaho, in 1961. His physician father had taken his life similarly years before. Actress and model, Margaux Hemingway, his granddaughter, took her life in 1996, at age 42, after a massive overdose. In 2017, Wyoming lost philanthropist Mick McMurray to suicide. Wealth and unlimited resources failed to insulate him from the ravages of despair. Too many are vulnerable after years of unrelenting pain, alcoholism, drug abuse, ruptured relationships, divorce, the death of a mate of many years indelibly leave their mark. Why do some give up? Others persist and prevail.

The story of distance swimmer, Florence Chadwick, on a foggy morning in 1952, may help illustrate the vital role of perspective. She waded into the chilly waters off Catalina Island, where she planned to swim the channel to the coast of California. Reportedly, the numbing cold of the water hit her immediately. The boat that escorted her was barely visible in the thick fog. Several times during her trek, a rifle had to be discharged to keep sharks at bay.

She labored in the water for fifteen hours before asking to be extricated. Her trainer encouraged her to keep going, telling her she was close to land. No stranger to distance swimming, Florence was the first women to swim the English Channel-both directions. But this day was different. She gave up just a half-mile from shore. Why? She reported, “I’m not excusing myself, but if only I had been able to see the land, I might have been able to make it.” The fog got her. She lost her perspective. Two months later she swam that channel and set a new speed record.

One may ask “Is there an antidote for despair?” The kind that we can cling to unequivocally. King David touts that kind in Psalm 34:17, “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles.” This isn‘t “God-talk” or religious platitudes. It’s trust and reliance on the One from Eternity, promising to be with us always. It’s wholly infrangible. Despair’s no respecter of persons, economic standing, or geographic boundaries. Some contend it’s magnified at holidays or the anniversary of the loss of one dear to them.

The past four decades of youth have swallowed a bitter root — offered a slippery rope of humanism — a hollow legacy to cling to in this world. The Scriptures confront reality head-on, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed, perplexed, but not in despairing; persecuted, but not abandoned, stuck down, but not destroyed.” We must find reserve to resist when dark places woo our soul. We dare not go there.

Vicissitudes on this revolving orb are certain. Once again we’re reminded that a multi-million dollar nest egg, constant accolades and praise of multitudes, are no hedge against life’s sharpest barbs. Neither opulence nor a life of leisure’s any assurance of personal peace or comfort. A pauper can discover greater joy than a prince in this world.

We’re not created for a reclusive life when trouble besets us. Seek wise counsel. Wisdom cautions one to refrain from prolonged days at the psychiatrist’s couch, or dulling one’s senses with prescription drugs or alcohol. There’s always a siren call to wage another war on depression and suicide-delivering questionable historical outcomes. Consider the side effects of prescription anti-depressants. Which is worse? The loss of hope’s daunting. Anticipate rising casualties when Generation XY and Z, coddled students, confront this not-so-antiseptic culture of competition, counter opinions, no “safe spaces,” and “no trophies for participation” after years of rescue by helicopter parents. Embracing behaviors and principles that permit us to face uncertainties make sense. Reject kismet.

There’s a better place of respite for the weary soul. Blaise Pascal, 17th Century French mathematician, physicist, inventor and philosopher, said it best, “Knowledge of God without knowledge of man’s wretchedness leads to pride. Knowledge of man’s wretchedness without knowledge of God leads to despair. Knowledge of Jesus Christ is the middle course, because by it we discover God and our wretched state.” On our own, we’re courting darkness, or worse.

C.S. Lewis possessed a knack for perspective, “If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth, only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.” Only the fool denies despair. Only the wise know where to go to end its indefatigable sway. Consolation may, for a season, assuage its uncompromising grip, yet fail to break the chains of bondage. It’s a choice. Often we’re snared in a web of quick, vacuous choices, that lead us astray, down a path of no return. Miserable and overwhelmed with life? Is it the blues? Or worse? What do you think?

Mike Pyatt is a Ravalli County resident. His email’s roderickstj@yahoo.com

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