Letter from Littlemore – No. 23
8th October 2011
Kindly Light & Encircling Gloom
“Lead kindly light, amid the encircling gloom” is the first line of one of Cardinal Newman’s famous hymns. In his Anglican days, he was the founder of our little church here in Littlemore. As you read it, or sing it, you wonder which one won out in Newman’s own soul – the light or the gloom. I read somewhere that Baron von Hugel – and what on earth was he doing in England, anyway? – said of Newman how sad it was that someone so learned, so full of passion and vision, so pious and holy, could be so depressing.
Depression is a puzzling thing, as varied as the people who suffer from it. It is well-known that it often affects those who ostensibly have a cheerful sense of humour, although on inspection it may be rather darker than is first realised. But even so, they make other people laugh, and the diagnosis of depression is often hard for others to believe because of that. Then there are other depressives who have every symptom, and yet use all their energies to propel their depression outwards, to bring others down with them. They protect themselves, at the cost of hurting those around them. After all, as one I worked for was fond of saying, “God did not put us on this earth to be happy”.
Depression puzzles further because depressives, especially the bi-polar kind, are capable of great energy and achievement. I well remember when it was at its worst when I worked in London, drawing the energy of the week together for the Sunday sermon and the Thursday lecture. Utterly useless the rest of the time. You lie there still, in the bed or the armchair, neither lazy, nor asleep, nor even drunk, watching the clock go round until at last it is too late to do anything. The ship has sailed out of the harbour, and you are not sorry to see it go.
You wonder when the gloom will end, and think it probably won’t. But kindly light sometimes shines, and when it does, it shines from other people – or from creatures, or God’s good creation. I have found that walking is much more use than medication, but that is a luxury of the unemployed. The most helpful people are those who have experienced it themselves, or those remarkable people who somehow just work out how to say and do the right things. My hopeless boss, whose affliction was infinitely worse than mine, had an assistant who was the mistress of the short simple task. She’d ask me to do something which she knew, and I knew, I could do. It had a swift deadline, and meeting it afforded an uplift of mood which was very welcome. Kindly light, amid the encircling gloom.
It’s not easy dealing with depressives, but I hope, sometimes, it’s worth it.