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The Night I Found a Hell of Mercy

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I was desperate on an almost-spring night, some four or five years ago; I was looking for a fix. I walked the halls and up the stairs, and I stood in front of a wall of books. I wanted words to jump off the pages and tenderly tuck a stray hair behind my ear, and kiss the corner of my forehead. I wanted a book to find itself in my hands, grip me with its spine, and say, “You’re going to be okay.”

Other people told me I would be okay, that I was actually getting better, but I knew the truth.

I was not doing better. Sure, some days I felt a little stronger or evened out, sometimes those days would even turn into prolonged periods of time lasting up to a month, but those reprieves couldn’t stop the crumbling; I felt the weight of memories building up and higher and over. I had nowhere to escape.

I hadn’t cried in some time. I felt like I should be over it; be over my past, and look with joy to the future, but I couldn’t do it, through no fault of my own or through the fault of a Higher Power. I was wrapped up in a dark depression, riddling me with anxiety, and although the intensity often surprised me, I was doing my best to allow myself to feel it.

Grief comes in waves.

I’m not sure if I prayed to Jesus for help as I was facing the wall of books, but I know that my weak hands, my bent neck and my hungry eyes had help written all over them.

Hell.

I saw the word “Hell” along one skinny spine, and I slipped it out from between its friends as quickly as I could. The cover of the book was graced with four prescription pills with words like Joy and Peace along the side of the drugs. I eyed the small book, A Hell of Mercy: a meditation on depression and the dark night of the soul, oh sweet Jesus, this is what I needed.

I didn’t need steps or solution or advice about dealing with my panic, anxiety and clinical depression.

But a meditation on depression? That’s something that I thought I could do.

I distinctly remember the chill in my house as I walked through my front door, book in hand, eyeing  a text on my phone, and declining an invitation to meet friends for drinks; sacred hope was the only company I needed that night.

I started reading the book while on my bed. There was no pause, I turned the pages quickly, as if they were both my first and last meal; ravaging the words, but also letting them sink and fill me slowly.

I felt safe with the author, right away, when he said,

I’m not a scholar, not a psychiatric professional, and certainly not a theologian. I’m more like a veteran I suppose: a guy whose ass has been on the line, just one more guy with stories from the front, someone who kept his head down as best he could and did what he had to do when the shit hit the fan.”

I wanted, I needed, someone with stories from the front, someone who didn’t hold back, someone who used language like I used language, and who always left room for doubt. Tim Farrington did this for me, and I can’t think of another author that I owe so much to; his book truly changed me.

Halfway through the book, I allowed myself to breathe. I slowed down, enjoyed the dark humor, the honest failures, and the search for meaning in the midst of depression.

Three-fourths of the way through I was crumpled up on my bedroom floor crying a mixture of pain and relief; it was the best, longest, from the gut cry that I’ve ever experienced.

Near the end of the book, on page ninety-six, there was a simple line which brought me a particular kind of peace, “Life goes on, but sometimes it goes on without us for a time.”

If you’ve been depressed, suffered from anxiety, or experienced any number of mental health conditions, maybe that line means something to you too. Sometimes we can’t keep up with life, can’t muster the courage or the faith or the whatever to be fully present in the lives of others.

Sometimes life does indeed go on without us for a little while, and that’s okay.

God, I wish I had heard that long before I read this book. I wish everyone who gives well-meaning sermons about “giving your depression to God and He’ll take care of it”  would know that for many who have suffered, as I have suffered, those words sound like, “There is no hope for you.” I wish more people would see that painful processes can indeed be beautiful, so long as you do not rush them along.

Healing is a timetable no human can determine.

Many of my ideas about spirituality were altered through A Hell of Mercy, as I suppose they should be when you have St. John of the Cross, Merton, Western Hinduism, a myriad of Zen practices, and stories of biblical characters all beautifully woven in one little book. The variety of religious traditions were balm to my chapped and searching soul; I found the beauty of God everywhere in Farrington’s book, and I haven’t been able to say that about another book since.

I got my wish that almost-spring night in the bookstore; I was going to be okay.

{There is hope for each one of you, but hope is hard to find sometimes, I know that. I’m reaching my hand out to everyone who is in a dark place today, and holding on to you with some hope of my own. Thanks for reading.}