Tropical Depression

We are still drenched in the feeder bands (like that weather report lingo? yep, we’re fluent in New Orleans) from this almost-hurricane Alex. They promise it won’t disturb the oil spill. Thank goodness. I’d hate to have anything mess that up—it’s been going so well. Speaking of lingo and fluency, I remember years ago, way before Katrina, someone told me, “There’s a depression out in the Gulf.” I puzzled over this for some time, wondering why she was telling me about a person suffering from chronic emotional distress out in the water. Should we get that person some help? A therapist? I was confused. Not any more. Now I know the short-hand terms better than I ever wanted to know. Although, it’s no accident that “tropical depressions” are called that. No mere weather pattern, these low-pressure systems infect our emotional core with an inexplicable heaviness. Anxiety, sure—that’s a conditioned response, rising from our collective memory of five years ago. But the hard-to-pinpoint sadness, the low-grade, enveloping grief that makes us move and think with a strange slowness—these seep into us from the air all around. An invisible density bores down on our brains from the Gulf and the past at once.

Makes me want to move to Canada for lots of reasons, not just the good gun control laws. Sheesh, don’t get me started.

Emily refused comment on the recent Supreme Court decision that overturned the ban on hand-guns. She’s only mildly interested in the weather. This was all she had to say:

#359, c. 1862

I gained it so —
By Climbing slow —
By Catching at the Twigs that grow
Between the Bliss — and me —
It hung so high
As well the Sky
Attempt by strategy —

I said I gained it —
This — was all —
Look, how I clutch it —
Lest it fall —
And I a Pauper go —
Unfitted by an instant’s Grace
For the Contented — Beggar’s face
I wore — an hour ago —

It’s true. Nothing like a moment’s happiness to make a person all that more aware of her misery. “Happiness makes up in height what it lacks in length,” said another dour New Englander.

Emily goes further. She says that her moment of happiness made it impossible for her to be content with mere existence. She might have been satisfied with trundling along, not expecting too much, but then she couldn’t resist reaching for that treasure up high, that bliss. Now, she’s had it once, she is ruined, spoiled for regular life, which is never characterized by sustained Bliss.

So she asks us to ask ourselves: Is it worth it? Clearly she believes it so. But she can’t help falling into the shadow surrounding Bliss. It’s the memory of Bliss in the shadow that spoils her. When she removes herself from experience and dwells in the memory of experience, then she finds the source of her melancholy, or rather her sense of herself as a Pauper. She sees Bliss as something that belonged to her, an object she clutches with desperation. When it slips away, she feels depleted, as though someone drained her bank account. Interesting that she doesn’t know how to be happy as a dog. She had plenty of good teachers for that. Sorry to roll out the clichés, but that’s what they mean when they say, “Ignorance is Bliss.” That and a failure of memory too.

My grandmother was the happiest she has ever been during the last few years of her life when her memory left. It was replaced with doughnuts covered in powdered sugar and round-the-clock cable TV. There was a program that showed a continuous loop of random amateur wedding videos. My grandmother watched these and imagined she was actually in attendance at the wedding, that these strangers on TV were her nieces and nephews getting married, and she was witnessing a real and true blessed event. It made her happy because she loved weddings, especially the cake at the end.

So my grandmother spent her final days as a perpetual wedding guest, smiling with powdered sugar dusting her chin and blouse. That was her bliss. Hard to argue with that. More of this tomorrow.

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