Semi-conscious, eyes not yet open, I was wary of wakefulness.
Persistent as my tongue checking a canker sore, my first thoughts zeroed-in on
a painful experience from the past. The person’s actions, though long ago and
far away, were stuck on instant replay in my psyche. For weeks, I hashed and
rehashed events I thought I had released to the farthest regions of my
conscious awareness. No longer dulled by the remnants of sleep, “Why don’t you
just forgive ________?” I asked.
Forgive and forget, right? I don’t put much store in forgetting
the hurts of my life. I put them on a hard-to-reach shelf with the intention of
simply letting them lie, and that works with the majority of them. Forgiveness
is different. Rarely do I let the most grievous actions simmer undisturbed, so they
continue to fester until I’m ready to address them. When it’s particularly
difficult to forgive, I often procrastinate on doing the hard work of
forgiveness. I answered my own question with, “Not yet.”
Like a mantra, I repeat: Forgiveness is releasing, letting go,
moving on, no longer holding someone else—and especially myself—hostage to the
pain of the past. Such often-stated words (clichés, even) regarding forgiveness
irritate and frustrate me. Forgiveness is not akin to the now-popular but
rather blithe (in my opinion) act of choosing a stone and tossing it into a
body of water—symbolizing all those clichés regarding forgiveness. “Whee! I’m
free!” Not so fast.
Forgiveness also involves a changed, different relationship with
the person who dished up your pain. And it takes focused energy and
determination to make that change. Toss as many stones as you want, but when
you step away from the shore, it will take focused energy and determination to
make those relational changes.
It’s the scope of such changed relationships that often holds me
back from forgiving. That scope—that new, changed relationship and what it
might entail—presents conflicting thoughts and emotions. You can restore a relationship, but that
relationship will be different. What you allow in your life and what you refuse
to let in must be adjusted in that changed relationship.
Hours after waking, the prospect of forgiveness continued to tug
at me. The phrase, “grappling with forgiveness” came to mind. I looked up the definition
of a grappling hook to be certain I was
grappling: In combat, grappling hooks are used to set off trip-wire-fused land
mines. They also are used to locate IEDs (improvised explosive devices).
Grappling hooks are claw-like. They are pointed. They have sharp
edges. “These look too menacing,” I decided. “I’m not doing that kind of grappling.” But those hooks
also are “used to dredge for submerged objects.” Perhaps I am grappling after
In considering an altered relationship post-forgiveness, one must
be aware of the land mines and IEDs that threaten the soul. One must consider
submerged issues and actions. Grappling it is.
In this grappling, I want to defuse the land mines and IEDs. I
want the submerged objects to be excavated and in full view. And I can neither
ask nor expect the person whom I forgive to do those things.
I can ask myself to do
those things. When I ask, I question what might the future (if any) be of the
Where might I encounter land mines and IEDs—in public, at places
of worship, at social events with friends, on social media, at family
gatherings? How will I approach (or avoid) such precarious situations? What can
I do—what will I do to make them less precarious? How can I bring a sense of
peace and even grace to these areas?
Where and how might I encounter submerged issues that affect the
terrain on which I stand? Where and how might I encounter once-submerged issues
and actions that no longer are beneath my awareness? When necessary, how will I
navigate terrain that requires more sure-footedness than I believe I have?
Each situation requiring or even containing a yearning toward the
outstretched heart and hands of forgiveness is unique. Because of that
uniqueness, I cannot answer these questions for anyone but myself.
The grappling hook is heavy and the rope holding it grows taut.
Weary of grappling with forgiveness, I must ask the hard questions, find the
good answers, and then act upon them.
Late summer afternoon heat crept into his limbs. The warmth tired
him and the nearby tree, abundant with its shade, beckoned him from beneath its
boughs. Seeking respite from the sun, he lay beneath its leafy arms and
succumbed to the siren call of cool sleep. Passersby noted his slumbering form
and left him undisturbed to rest away whatever may have been his troubles of
Sound idyllic? Like a nap stolen on a sweet summer day? The
description is accurate, but it leaves out some important details.
But it was more like this.
The scene was no park, nor beach, nor sheltered place of idle, pleasant
repose. The Citgo gas station parking lot of Military Trail in Lake Worth,
Florida, has the just-described tree with its long limbs to provide shade and
shelter from the searing heat of the South Florida sun in late June.
No grass cushioned the man I saw sleeping there yesterday just as
we were about to pull away after getting gas. Clad in jeans, a shirt, and
shoes, an unidentified bottle of refreshment nearby, he slept. Off to the side
of the station, he wasn’t readily visible, but we saw him and noted his prone,
unmoving figure. “Is he alive?” we wondered.
Samaritans we were not, but we did pause in our travels long
enough to determine whether we could see the rise and fall of his chest,
signifying breath and life. Confirming that breath and life, we drove on.
Today, I tell myself I’m just like those passersby in
Internet-posted videos who see someone in distress and do not stop to help. I
made the judgment, which may be accurate—or not—that he was passed-out drunk,
or homeless, or drug addicted. Beyond waiting to confirm he was alive, I deemed
he was not my concern.
I wonder, would I have done the same if he were well-dressed?
Would I have done the same if he were in an upscale neighborhood or shopping
mall and not in a depressed area that has more than mere hints of blight?
I also ask: Did I miss the chance to aid an angel of whom I was
I cannot answer these questions.
Instead I ask a question to which I know the answer: Did I pass by
a chance to show compassion, care, and concern to another human? It is to my
shame that I whisper in response, “Yes.”
I’m semi-famous (almost famous) for my pesto. In basil season
(which in Florida is all year), family members stand at my elbows, impatient
for that first taste. Bowls full of this green delight are often eaten at a sitting.
Follow my directions and use the ingredients I list and you, too, will have
friends and family at your side, ready to taste, savor, and enjoy.
3 cups packed fresh basil
leaves (no stems)
4 good-sized cloves garlic,
¾ cup fresh grated Pecorino
¼ cup pine nuts
½ cup olive oil (I prefer
1/8 cup chopped, curled
parsley (not flat or Italian parsley, also no
1/8 cup melted, cooled
Wash the basil leaves and
spin or towel dry. Place in a food processor with the steel blade. Add the
olive oil and pulse briefly. Add pine nuts and garlic and pulse briefly. Add
Romano and parsley and process until smooth. Pour melted cooled butter through
the top of the processor while it’s running. The finished pesto will have a thick,
grainy consistency. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
Serve on hot pasta or
bread. When serving, do not mix the pesto
into the entire batch of pasta. Make enough (double the recipe, if
necessary) so each person has a ¼ cup (or more) for their individual serving of
For the Best-O Pesto, You Must Follow My Rules:
Use fresh, green basil. If growing your own, Genovese basil is the
best. Sweet basil also works well. Pecorino Romano balances the strong flavors of the garlic, basil, and
pine nuts. You may use Parmesan (fresh grated, please), but the flavor will be
sharper. Pine nuts are a must. Yes, they are pricey, but Trader Joe’s sells
them at a reasonable price. They can be stored in the freezer. I prefer
mild-tasting olive oil because, like the Romano, it balances the mix and
prevents one flavor from outshining the other. I recommend curled parsley
because it, too, provides balance to the flavors and the flat and Italian parsley
taste and aroma are too strong. I prefer angel hair pasta, but pasta preference is all yours and not one of the rules.
If making large batches, pesto freezes well and can be stored for
Note: When I first began making pesto, I used the recipe from Molly Katzen’s The Enchanted Broccoli Forest. However, I have tweaked the recipe so much over the
years that only a few similarities remain.
It’s gone and I’m beyond distressed. Fires, tornadoes, hurricanes,
mudslides, tsunamis, floods . . . houses get ruined, destroyed, daily. Rubble
squats where once stood a home, a place that wrapped its walled arms around
people and kept them safe, secure, and warm. Those walled arms allowed them to
slumber, ceiling overhead, the dark kept outside where it belongs.
Homes vanish at nature’s whim, the carelessness of humans, or by
choice, to make way for something else. Those something elses can and do take
the form of offices, stores, shopping centers, resorts, playgrounds. Those
something elses take the form of highways on which we partake in the dance of
travel, of movement, of getting where we want to be, where we think we should
be, and where we think we must be.
Vivid pictures of that home had slipped across the miles and years
of memory and into my expectations. A white house on a corner lot—brick
fireplace on the east side. A bay window in the dining room, also facing east.
Brick steps leading to the front door were embraced on each side by tall azalea
bushes whose color blazed bright every spring. Five-foot-tall elephant ears once
dwarfed the children in their shadows. Old-growth heirloom camellias, a
hydrangea bush that blushed blue before summer’s heat dried its blossoms.
Camphor trees with roots once dug for sassafras tea in the years ignorant of
its toxins. Wood floors, polished to a reflective sheen. A swinging door gave
passage from the kitchen to the dining room. An arch opened the living room to
the dining room. An extra room off the kitchen and dining room had its windows long
ago closed in. Its wall became shelves for hundreds of books. Windows
throughout the house had separate panes of glass held in by wood painted bright
white to mark the sections that let in light. A single bathroom for a family of
six. A pile of leaves behind the garage composted and fed the abundance of
worms just beneath the soil’s edge. A single-car garage on the side of the
house stored a push mower with rotating blades, clippers for the azalea bushes,
paint, tools, the things that make up a life—a home.
In the days preceding my journey there, I imagined pulling up and
marveling at the yard and how small it would seem through adult eyes as opposed
to child memories. I would have been courteous to the current occupants and
grateful for any time they allowed me to observe and maybe even step upon and
touch the ground on which my child feet once walked.
Possibility figured in my imagination—perhaps once again those
wood floors would hold me up as I walked into the door, perhaps my eyes would
look through the bay window and see as an adult as well as a child.
Google Maps could not find the location when I requested
directions from my Central Florida home to those brick steps three hours north
of me. I hadn’t lived there for fifty years. Maybe my memory had failed me on
the exact address. The street was there and that was enough for me.
We exited I-95 and wound our way toward the neighborhood and
nothing was familiar. The house on the first corner held no recognition for us.
Once several blocks long, the street was short—only three blocks.
West of where the house and street should have been were massive
piles of rubble—the remains of my childhood home. Stunned into mute grief, we
continued to drive in the neighborhood. We found the cemetery we once used as a
shortcut on our way to school. I scanned the grounds through the locked gates,
and as I turned away for a moment, I saw a young man on the street. I called
out to him, we spoke at length, and he confirmed what I already knew. Eighteen
months earlier, the DOT razed the west end of the neighborhood for an I-95
So recent, yet so long ago. Time didn’t matter because gone is
gone. I turned again to the cemetery. Entering a locked cemetery absent
malicious intent didn’t seem wrong to me. I climbed through an open area in the
fence. I explored the area alone, with reverence, respect, and silence. It was
and is still a cemetery for Black people. In the years it was our path to
school, the burial ground was overgrown and untended. It now has a sturdy fence
and the locked gate discourages vandals. Grass grows around the graves. A paved
road provides access. Flowers adorn many areas, and new graves are interspersed
with old—some dating from the 1800s. New headstones stand near cracked and
broken markers, some with dim letters that appear to have been etched by hand
into unyielding stone.
Do the old-growth live oaks
miss the feet of children playing at their roots?
I took that path to learning and I continue to learn. Part of what
I’ve learned since my feet stepped on those grounds and since I was awed by the
azalea bushes in the spring is gratitude. I am grateful for the years I spent
in that house. I’m grateful that the cemetery is well tended, that the souls
there rest undisturbed. I wonder, however, if the feet of children are missed
by the ground and the old-growth oaks towering above miss the shenanigans and
What remains of my life on that street and all my childhood
memories is a cemetery. As I processed the initial, stabbing grief of losing the
home I knew and loved, I instead stepped lightly around another place of grief
and loss and love.
“Virtue isn’t boring; it’s essential.” Always, on, always aware,
and with thousands of Bread and Circuses vying for our attention, judgment, and
dismay, the virtual is often leagues beyond virtuous. It’s often difficult to
find the path to what’s honest, true, and satisfying in a calm, comfortable
That environment is free from shrieking voices, lewd photos,
videos, and ever-attention-grabbing muck that calls with the siren song of just
one more click, just one more photo, a few more coarse words, just one more bit
of gossip, anger, and chaos. That gossip, anger, and chaos pull us away from
the quiet side of virtue held in a baby’s laugh, a sunrise, an embrace between
Stepping away from the siren call of stuff, sensation, and oversaturation,
we find that virtue is the sweet aroma of a rose floating across our psyche, a
touch, a meal shared among loved ones, a dance into the imagination of a
garden, a symphony, a sand-swept shore.
Virtue. Seek it, embrace it, live the truly good life.
The black dogs of
depression began sniffing near my heels on a recent day. I felt them creep
toward my eyes and produce tears that brimmed in my lower lids like cups too
full yet not quite spilled.
Dense, dark clouds
blocking the sun validated the day’s forecast of heavy winds, rain, maybe
tornadoes. The lack of blue sky and sunlight helped me rationalize the weighty
thoughts and feelings springing into my psyche. Those feelings, however,
reflected more than weather woes, more than the occasional dark day in my usually
sunny Florida skies.
Sensing the black
dogs approach, I gazed beyond the sky, knowing that more than clouds beckoned
them near. Depression having been my nemesis for years beyond which I can count,
when its dark scent heralds demons coming my way, I’ve gained the wisdom to
know it’s a matter of life for me to act. If I don’t, the black dogs and all
they entail might overcome me.
I sharpen my senses
and begin the critical task of surveying my environment. I am aware that what I
see, when I sleep, what I eat, where I go—or don’t go—and my actions and
reactions either sustain my soul or provide a feast to lure the dark beasts
nipping at me. To quell the beasts’ advance, I ask: What scraps of life have I
tossed their way that they circle round me, salivating for more?
The question and its
answers are essential because once the feeding begins, such beasts are never
satiated; they will circle, sniff, and tug at my soul, until my most vulnerable
marrow is exposed. Indeed, I ask, what scraps of life have enticed them? What
did I choose from the “Menu for the Black Dogs of Depression” and put on the
plate of my life?
Menu for the Black Dogs of Depression
Feed Them and They Will Keep Coming
Back for More
Loneliness: Isolate yourself.
Avoid social contact and interactions.
The God Hole: Fill the God hole
with stuff, distraction, sensation—anything that isn’t spiritually enlightening
Sloth: Black dogs drool when they spy the
vulnerable wasting time, frittering away opportunity, and letting food-crusted dishes,
clutter, sweat-stained laundry, and dirt accumulate.
Junk Food: High-sugar,
high-fat, white-flour-laden, nutrient-lacking food, and a scarcity of fruits
and vegetables open a path for the dark side to edge into your psyche and
provide a platter to serve up the scraps of your soul.
Alcohol and Drugs: Soul-killing
substances are top of the menu for seeding dark clouds—and days and nights—of
Negative, parasitic people:
Those who suck the life out of you, people who sap your time, energy, and
strength—physical and emotional—leave little to ward off the nipping canines
that howl, growl, and seek a place to sink their teeth.
Garbage In/Black Dogs In, Too:
Words, music, movies, videos, angry rants, and rage, all rent a kink in the
armor of your psyche where the black dogs can latch and then hold on.
Menu in front of me,
appetizers, entrees, and desserts scanned, I noted the items on my order: isolation,
lack of exercise, poor diet. Awareness was my first step away from the
snarling, salivating beasts. Next, connection, exercise, and eating well made
them fall back into the shadows, far from my heels, far from my psyche.
I remain alert,
aware, and watchful because these carriers of depression aren’t cute, they
aren’t cuddly; you don’t want to bring them home. These fierce, snarling,
destructive hounds of hell will never be full. They are rarely satisfied. Leave
a place in your life or heart open, and they charge, hungry, and cruel. When
you refuse to provide them a single entrée from their life-wrenching menu, they
will back away, heads low, tails between their legs, but nonetheless sniffing
and ever-alert for their next meal.
I have power in the
tools I use to keep the black dogs in the shadows where they belong. I keep those
tools close by, knowing that life—and my menu—are likely to change.
From where I sit
this day, my heart holds no fear of those recent dark days. The black dogs have
trotted away and neither do I anticipate nor am I wary of their return. These
feelings of safety, security, and serenity are a result of me seizing the gift
of awareness—and giving my heart, my psyche, and my soul the care I deserve.
and becomes a part of one’s life and heart for many reasons and wears many
faces—not all as dark as described here. I must be watchful in all facets of my
life to maintain the edge of awareness necessary for me to keep the dark side
* * * *
The term black dogs of depression is nothing more
than a metaphor. I mean neither disrespect nor disservice to black dogs when I
use this term. My two mixed-breed Black Lab/Virginia coon hounds will vouch for
Information About Depression
Mild depression and
situational depression are not unusual at unsettled stages of our lives. That
unsettled aspect often lends the name adjustment
disorder to such forms of depression. When our lives are askew, it is more
important to be aware and not entice the black dogs with items from the menu
presented earlier. Situational depression can often be addressed, soothed, and
ended by positive lifestyle activities and choices.
NOTE: It is important to be aware that clinical
depression is a serious, sometimes life-threatening condition and must be
treated by a mental health professional. If you or someone you know or love has
or shows signs of depression, it is of utmost importance to receive help right
away. Signs of depression and resources for information and treatment follow.
Signs of Depression
of sadness, emptiness, or unhappiness
outbursts, irritability, or frustration, even over small matters
of interest or pleasure in normal activities, such as sex
disturbances, including insomnia or sleeping too much
and lack of energy, so that even small tasks take extra effort
in appetite—often reduced appetite and weight loss, but increased cravings for food and weight
gain in some people
agitation or restlessness—for example, excessive worrying, pacing, hand-wringing
or an inability to sit still
thinking, speaking, or body movements
of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures or blaming yourself for
things that are not your responsibility
thinking, concentrating, making decisions, and remembering things
thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, or suicide
physical problems, such as back pain or headaches