I didn’t see Phil today, and he was asleep yesterday, his breath shallow and five times the speed of my own. His coming death is unexpectedly hard for me. As I saw it, he and I were supposed to be among the few who would carry on the lodge when the older members died out.
I am so depressed over his imminent loss that I am having trouble coping. I am in my third day of failed attempts at a carpentry project that should have taken but a few hours. As for my studies in natural history, I can scarcely see the point. I reflected tonight that if all the seconds of all the lives of every human who ever lived were added together, the number would compare unfavorably to one raindrop against the totality of all raindrops. Where is comfort to be found in our brief temporality?
This is hardly the first time that I have experienced depression, and I worry that such intermittent moroseness will undermine my health. I can well imagine Virginia Woolf walking into the surf, or Ernest Hemingway blowing his head off after a failed attempt to throw himself into an airplane propeller. The desire for death becomes almost too great to be denied by the earliest and most certain method available, no matter how grotesquely unthinkable it would appear in ordinary moments. I do not know how to survive such times other than to wait them out, my marriage negating any genuine threat of suicide.
I sometimes think that I should at least get drunk in order to buy a brief respite, but I am blessed in that I have no great appetite for alcohol, and actually tend to drink more when I feel good than when I feel bad. Thus deprived of all obtainable comforts, I carry on as normally as I can, confident in my belief that the darker the night, the brighter will be the coming day—or so it has been in the past. But always, I know that there will come another night, and that I can no more resist it than I can resist the revolution of the planets.
And so I thrash about for any ready diversion. Last night, I read about the Confederate general, John Bell Hood. He lost an arm in one battle, a leg in another, and finally succumbed to yellow fever at age forty-eight. “At least, I have beaten him,” I say to myself, “for I am a full ten years his senior, and my limbs are intact.” It seems a very odd thing to simultaneously wish for dissolution and to rejoice in reading about the people I have outlived. It’s as though some remote part of me is mocking my misery. This part serves to remind me that, even if all the dire things I might say about the state of the universe and my part in it are true, sadness is not a given. While sadness might be a given for some other reason (hormonal, perhaps), it is not a given due to futility, because futility is not reality. Futility is a value judgment that I impose upon reality, and sadness is but the outcome of that value judgment.