December 31, 2018

Death and Hope

Saddened to learn a longtime co-worker died last at a local hospice due to drug addiction related illness. I wish there was something I could’ve said or done. He did cobble together a 30-year career which is impressive given his demons.

Reminds me so much of David Foster Wallace, though Wallace only made it about 46 years and he didn’t commit suicide outright.

Saw a local TV news interview with his daughter who poignantly is trying to find his guitar (he’d pawned it, looking to get money for opiates). She wants to buy it and learn to play it to honor him.

She said Jerry had begun using opiates about 2-3 years ago (2015 or 2016), which would put the timeline right in line with his loss of job. Whether he lost the job due to the drugs, or the drug relapse came without the structure of a job it’s hard to say but at that point there were no brakes on self-destruction. I’d reached out in June of ’17 and he was involuntarily retired at that point and was told he was “doing okay”, but turns out he’d pawned his guitar the month before.

He never quite believed in hope, but then he had the mental condition (depression) that fought constantly against it. Surely that limited his culpability, perhaps completely.

Seeing a picture in the news link of him and his family reminds me that whatever responsibility I had to try to give him light and hope and Christian faith was dwarfed by the responsibility that poor family must’ve felt. In 2014 he wrote:
Winston Churchill's own "black dog" of depression and frequent bouts of bottomless despair are often credited with giving him the mindset that allowed him to fully grasp the grim reality of Hitler's grandiose and dark intentions, while also tapping a deep-rooted resiliency and hope within his people to enable them to carry on, in the face of really bad odds.
Well, I already gave up all the goddamn kibble that kept my own lifelong black dog of depression well fed. No alcohol, drugs, or smoking, yet that loyal depressing f---ker is still going strong, a constant companion by my side.
The paradoxical thing about hope is it’s not hope, really, unless there’s a darkness or obscurity that prevents it from being easily seen. Thus my own belief in hope must include Jerry’s lack of belief in it. He, unwittingly, exercises mine by his lack thereof.

The desire for a neat little gingerbread sense of faith and hope is alluring but not really what the Bible teaches. Just ask Job, or the Jews around the time of the Babylonian captivity, or the apostles on Good Friday. This quote found via Twitter today from Frank Sheed is appropriate:
“Catholic novels have got themselves a bad name, so that even Catholics avoid them. Why? Not, we think for the reasons usually given. It is not simply that too many of them end with a flurry of wedding-bells and a shower of conversions. The reason is more fundamental. The Catholic as a Catholic has been taught that God is everywhere and that all things are overruled by Providence: he has been taught and he believes it. But he sees the hand of Providence best when things fall out as he would have arranged them if he had been God! So that as a novelist the Catholic too often takes his little section of life, and instead of seeing Providence in it, acts Providence to it. As you read you feel that the thing is being maneuvered.” 
“All things are overruled by Providence.” I wanted to see Jerry’s life succeed in visible terms with outward faith and drug-free end. I’d attempted to argue with him a few times on his atheism; I took much joy when he became Catholic presumably under the influence of his second wife, and said what drew him was the Eucharist, specifically the words of consecration: “This is my Body...”. He said he was greatly moved. I was wonderstruck a non-believer could have a change of heart. But the conversion didn’t seem to last, and they got divorced after a dozen years of marriage and he reverted to agnosticism, at least as of March 2016.

This quote on Twitter is timely:
“The Incarnation does not give us a ladder to climb out of the human condition. It gives us a drill that lets us burrow down into the heart of everything that is and, there, find it shimmering with divinity." - Avery Cardinal Dulles, SJ

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