by Mike Pyatt
One needn’t comprehend the various schools of thought on despair and existentialism to understand this subject. The Carpenters popularized, Rainy Days & Mondays, with these poignant 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…” It’s inexplicable. At times, it’s 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. Many of us have been there, and returned, bruised and battered, often more percipient to the truth.
Tinsel Town’s rife with stories of tragic despair. Comedian Robin Williams’ end of life was anything but comedic. Reportedly bi-polar, with a history of self-medication, and deep depression, he ended his life-at least this earthly one. Some have described these conditions as “dark moments of the soul.” Myriad are the reasons for such moments. Years of unrelenting pain, alcoholism, drug abuse, psychological disorders, ruptured relationships, isolation, jejune existence, and divorce. Many self-imposed. Or the death of a mate of many years. Why do some give up? Yet others move beyond it and prevail.
The story of distance swimmer, Florence Chadwick, on a foggy morning in 1952, may help illustrate the 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 struck 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 ominously 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.
Is there hope for one’s “fog of despair?” Not the transient kind translated, “There might be something there, or not.” It’s the lasting kind that one can cling to unequivocally. King David touted, in Psalm 34:17, “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles.” One shouldn’t confuse this with “God-talk,” that which is tossed about, to and fro casually in our quotidian existence. Words without content. A card-board candy store front, without candy inside. It’s trust in One who promised to be with us always. Despair is no respecter of persons, geographic boundaries, financial station in life, or celebrity status.
The past four generations of youth have swallowed a root of bitterness-offered a slippery rope of humanism-a hollow legacy for this world, that fails miserably to withstand the assailing winds in one’s life, bereft of lasting hope. The New Testament confronts reality head-on, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed, perplexed, but not crushed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned, stuck down, but not destroyed.” One must resist when a dark place slavishly beckons our soul. One dare not go. There’s a better place of respite for the 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.” Humanism beguilingly chants, clangorously, without hesitation, or warning label, “Look elsewhere.”
C.S. Lewis captured the issue, “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 knave or fool denies despair. But, only the wise know where to go to end its indefatigable sway. Kind words of consolation may for a season assuage its uncompromising grip, or forestall its inevitable consequence. Only the Lord breaks the chains of existential bondage of all stripes.
A major hostile encounter in our culture is that of standing against the onslaught of the grand imaginary myth-there are no absolutes; that of moral equivalency, or one choice is as good as another, ignoring the historical truth that this world is stamped with His Trademark. Unregenerate man’s condition of “low visibility” isn’t due to the absence of evidence for God’s existence, but attributable to man’s own existential myopia, willingly ignorant of a Personal God. Unbelief isn’t related to IQ or lack of evidence, but rather due to man’s willful autonomy and refusal to bow before the Living God, sadly relegating His benevolent presence as a pariah.
The fog that Florence Chadwick faced in 1952, was real and palpable. The fog that secular man blindly navigates, relying on a compass absent true North, is based on denial, resisting the still small voice of God that whispers in the midst of the “fog of despair.” He’s willing to penetrate the “blues or despair” of one’s existence. Genuine answers for real people. Avoid prolonged stays at the psychiatrist or therapist. It’s a choice. Miserable and overwhelmed with life? Is it the blues? Or worse? What do you think?
Mike Pyatt’s a Natrona County resident. His email’s email@example.com