On Monday I had lunch with a former student, who was telling me that he had been confronted over the weekend with some evidence that suggested that the young woman he has been falling in love with may actually be dating someone else. He had not yet had a chance to discuss it with her, but was taking the possibility rather badly.
Yesterday I was in my office, which adjoins the office of the composition professor (with whom this student is currently studying) and, through the wall, I heard fragments of a conversation between him and the professor that suggested that he had talked with the young woman and that things had not gone well. At one point I heard the student weeping uncontrollably. On one hand, I suppose it's good that the student can release so freely; on the other, it must have been uncomfortable for a middle-aged man such as the composition professor (who is himself gay and has no kids) to be faced with such stark vulnerability in a young person, with all of the possible emotional memories of one's own emotional vulnerability that that might bring up.
I wasn't sure if the student would stop by my office after his composition lesson, and I was actually kind of relieved that he didn't, since I wasn't exactly in the best condition myself. A week ago Monday, we had a bit of wet snow and some sleet. It was a miserable weather day, and I could feel a depression kicking in, probably related to memories of the final stages of my mother's illness during the period when she had been transferred from the rehabilitation facility to home hospice care. I had already been feeling a need to take more of an at-home retreat approach to my spiritual practice and an increasing desire to distance myself from satsang for a definite period of time. This past week I began to notice significant burnout and an aversion to being on campus any longer than absolutely necessary in order to discharge my teaching obligations.
So yesterday, when the student didn't come by my office after his composition lesson, I decided to gather my things and continue my work at home. Today I found a link to a PowerPoint presentation by Peter Wilberg on depression that I have found helpful in the past. For me, the hardest thing is to resist the cultural imperatives that pressure people to pull out of their depressive processes rather than to surrender to them. It can be difficult to assert one's right to pull back and to do what one needs to do.
My former student called me yesterday evening and caught me up on what had been happening. He said he had had trouble sleeping since the weekend, but had gone to the counseling service on campus and had been given 2 days' worth of sleeping meds to help him break the cycle of insomnia. We talked for about 15-20 minutes.
He's unusually open and frank and reaches out to adults as well as to his peers when he needs support. I'm hopeful that some young woman will appreciate his integrity, but that may not happen for a few years.
For my part, I'm coming to feel that there seems to have been insufficient emotional nurturing during my infancy and childhood, and as I advance into middle age, it seems that all of my various attempts to make up for that deficit have been failures. It's just something I'm going to have to learn how to accept and how to live with. I could have made more of a mess of my life than I have (as I have seen some others do).
For now, what I'm noticing is that each period of more-than-ordinary depression has its own texture, its own "personality," its own trajectory. I'm actually liking this one quite a bit already, probably because in my advancing (but yet still early) middle age I'm getting better about claiming my solitude more resolutely. Speaking of which, I watched "Bergman Island" this morning. It's a documentary interview with Ingmar Bergman, filmed near the end of his life. It was really beautiful.
And so, now time for a walk on this rather gray autumn day.