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All in the waiting...

Posted by Adam on July 2, 2001, at 18:34:49

I belong to a mountaineering club, and often go on some pretty rigorous backpacking trips with other members. I even help lead a few excursions, which I did this last weekend. There is nothing like hiking across a high ridge in the midst of a violent thunderstorm to give you an appreciation for the power of nature, both thrilling and dangerous.

On this trip I met a woman who happened to be a psychiatrist. She had just finished her residency, and was "celebrating" by hiking in the driving rain with us. We had mutual intrest in each otherís work, and spent a good part of the trip chatting, when we werenít dodging the elements. I donít know if Iím developing a kind of radar, but I had a sense, despite her present demeanor, that she had spent some time on both sides of the couch, so to speak. During a semi-private moment, when another participant had run off to answer natureís call, she offered me a big hunk of cheddar cheese to go with a bagel (good, dense hiker snack). Maybe it was a little bold, but I replied, as a polite way to decline the offer, "Well, thanks, but Iíll let you in on a little secret: Iím taking an MAOI."

She looked a bit perplexed for a moment, and then asked "What for?" "Major depressive disorder," I replied. Another pause. "Is it working?" When I told her it was, she replied in turn that she had tried one, but it wasnít for her. Her present therapy: A combo of lithium, mirtazapine, and some ECT when necessary. I think, perhaps, she has not had quite my luck in the battle with depression.

But she exceeds me in nearly every other sense. What followed during the next few hours was what felt like a deeper rapport and a remarkable amount of disclosure. We carpooled home together, and I came to see that I was speaking with a veritable polymath who also (during her residency and into the present) is working on a masterís in writing. She speaks French. She climbed Mt. Shasta. She attempted suicide twice, and was hospitalized twice. Sheís writing a book about it (among other things). She asked me if I wrote much, and I said I used to. I told her it was hard sometimes because I was afraid that, if I were to end my own life, someone might find my journal and think I was a shitty writer, so I tended to agonize over every word. She smiled and said she had the same experience with a suicide note. "Oh, God," I replied, "I had to break out a thesaurus once." Bursts of ironic laughter, followed by another pensive silence.

As the ride drew to its close, she asked if I liked poetry. I said I liked some, but did not have much exposure to it. I told her a story of how I disappointed a high school English teacher with my inability to grasp the genius of T. S. Eliot. I just didnít get Eliotís meaning, what with women coming and going, speaking of Michelangelo, night skies like aetherized patients and so on. She asked me if I knew this poemÖ

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.

I said I did not, but that it made me want to read T. S. Eliot again.

She knows Iím seeing another woman. I never hid that fact, though I must confess I did not dwell on it. Nothing ostensibly inappropriate transpired. But what was felt, I think, by both of us, the unspoken conversation, has left a deep impression on me that I feel even more strongly today. It is uncanny, this way we can recognize something in another person, something that resonates and attracts. Neither ego or intent has moved me so far; I am full of doubts and conflicting emotions. I didnít want this to happen, and if I could dismiss or deny it, I would.

I fear the impulsive side of myself. I fear the risk. I have a wonderful relationship, and this person is a relative stranger. How did she know? How did I know? Or do I know nothing? I want to ask her things, deeper questions about how she feels, if she is happy. I feel, perhaps foolishly, a real desire to make her happy. Maybe itís just me being selfish, some saviour complex or other delusion. Of course, if she is still depressed, there is nothing I could do but offer my support. I recognized this morning, in her quoted poem, perhaps a hint of a message, even if she herself did not recognize it at the time. I think the sadness I feel right now is one of cautious resignation, that she may still have to wait, perhaps for a long time; and that I cannot offer her more, for it would be love of the wrong thing.




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