The conversation took place a long time ago in a place far from here. We have since lost contact.

I do not know how his life turned out; but I recall his words, at least as they sound now in my imagination. I wonder whatever became of his life, as I hear his voice now in my head.

He said,

We are all just dragging ourselves through each day, putting one foot in front of the other, trying as much as possible to minimize discomfort and pain, and squeeze a few tiny shreds of enjoyment, or at least distraction, out of our days. Mostly, even though we all seem so preoccupied with our lives and treat them as the most important thing in the world, we know we are going nowhere and we are just trying to find a way to pass the time until we finally die.

Today he would, at least be labelled a cynic; he might well be diagnosed as clinically depressed and given prescription medication. Perhaps that is indeed what he really needed. But, at the time we spoke, he seemed to be managing his life reasonably well. He was not incapacitated. The casual observer might not have noticed anything troubling. He was still “dragging” himself “through each day, putting one foot in front of the other” with a degree of success. On the surface, he was coping.

But, beneath the surface lay a deep melancholy.

The word “melancholy” has have fallen out of common usage. It originates from the Greek melankholia, which is a conjunction of the prefix melas, meaning ‘black’ and kholē  which means ‘bile.’ People who suffer from an excess of “melancholy” probably experience it as something close to “black bile”.

In current usage, this “black bile” is more commonly labelled “depression” which comes from the Latin deprimere meaning ‘to press down’. The experience of melancholy/depression is certainly an experience of feeling, pushed down, crushed by the weight and force of emotions that feel unmanageable and from which there seems to be no escape or relief.

Commenting on the death of rockstar Chris Cornell, arts and entertainment writer Rich Larson has written,

It’s possible that, along with grunge, Generation X’s other great gift to society is depression. I mean, of course it was here long before the Baby Boomers started re-producing, but we talk about it more than those who came before us. We talk about it as a demon or a monster. It’s a dark shadow that shows itself at any point in time without warning. It surrounds us, isolates us, and quiets us.

Larson goes on to warn

This isn’t something we left behind with our twenties. This isn’t something cured by age or financial security. This isn’t something you “outgrow.” If it’s allowed to fester, depression is stronger than wisdom. Depression is insidious and tenacious. Depression can get to anybody. It can make you feel like an old man at 27. It can make you feel lost as a child at 52.

“If it’s allowed to fester…” Anything that is “allowed to fester” may come back to bite us when we are not paying attention.

Whatever the causes of depression, it is important to listen to the melancholy voice. This voice of sadness is trying to communicate. It’s words may be vague and inarticulate, but they carry meaning.

The voice of melancholy may be saying that there are physical/medical realities to which I need to attend. It may be a warning to change my diet, get more physical exercise, go for a walk in nature, develop more healthy human connections. It may be a call to examine my spiritual life, forgive someone by whom I have been hurt, or deal with a broken relationship.

Guilt is never useful in dealing with the searing pain of depression, neither is denial.

The person to whom I listened all those years ago who experienced his life as “going nowhere,” needed to pay attention to his experience. He needed to listen to the call of his sadness to take even one tiny step towards a new way of being.

Life is a journey. There are signposts along the way. If we heed the signals our lives are sending, there is a better chance we may take a healthy turn at a crucial crossroads.