Today I’m happy to share a guest post by Zoe Reyes. Zoe is a woman with many hats. She’s the Community Development Director at our church. She’s the mother to two children. She’s a writer/blogger at Long Distance Lobsters, and she’s a photographer at Zoelux Photos (all images in this post are hers!). I highly recommend taking the time to check out her work. Without further ado, here is her honest, thoughtful post as part of my ongoing series on depression and faith, Dark Hope.
I love composting. Even after a few years of it, I still find myself delightfully surprised when I dig out the dirt my trash yields. In go my potato peels and out comes this deep, rich, blacker than black, moist and beautiful food for my salad greens. I transport it into my garden, and suddenly it is yielding more harvest than I ever anticipate. It thrives, despite my spotty attention mixed with more frequent neglect. Often, unplanned plants even spring up out of the compost, as seeds from my kitchen-waste love the beautiful humus as much as the seeds I plant with intention. This is why it’s called “black gold.”
Dirt is a strange subject to write on for an audience. Dirt is gross, right? The smell, the feel, the scary surprises it hides. Worse. Dirt is death. And yet, I think that’s what amazes me. The dead, the useless, the waste that otherwise hassles and clogs up my kitchen and property now has purpose. And with purpose, decay can now bring me joy. This new view on dirt even transforms my feelings towards icky bugs and worms. Instead of screeching and shivering at the site of a worm, I now light up and gently lift any found worms up in my fingers to carry them over to the earth-worm-schmorgesbourg that is the compost bin, “Eat away my little darling! Eat away!” I sing with tender delight.
Dirt is a dark hope for the useless and wasted.
I resonate with this beauty in death as a person with depression. My depression both feels like death and sometimes even seems to push me towards death. I have lived with depression for decades, in various forms through various seasons. Most of these seasons though have done something to sever or all together kill my ties to something. Sometimes it has been friends I thought were important to me, aspirations I was staking my life on. Very often it has been pleasures I had passionately pursued. But perhaps most significantly, the death has come to ways of thought, paradigms, or worldviews that have guided my life. I prided my childish notion that I was a member of a perfect, unbroken family before members of said family were revealed as unfaithful. I found safety in the assumption that people were impacted by me in the ways I intended, with generosity, selflessness, and gratitude before colleagues reflected or projected onto me a flatter representation of my personage, whittling me down to “white woman,” “naïve youngster,” “just like all the rest of those . . .” I was comfortably attached to my membership in a family of three before my son’s arrival was pending. The deaths to these ideas triggered in me my darkest seasons of depression. They may have been helped along by other physiological experiences: compounding circumstances like life stressors, physical strain, hormonal shifts undoubtedly contributed. But those elements have been present at other times when depression has not necessarily overwhelmed me as in the periods of these decompositions of illusions I depended on.
I usually hate my life in the midst of these seasons. Depression feels awful, like my head and body become my enemy. The weight of my eyelids becomes impossibly great. My head aches as if being compressed between two boards being tightened together by a huge screw. My muscles clench and don’t release. My body feels like a heavy metal blanket that weighs me down, making my movement and my thoughts immobile, imprisons me in an enduring spiral into the depths of despair. I am heavy. I am hopeless. I feel like I am being physically and completely cut off from the world around me. And I am. Depression pushes me into isolation. In it, I suffer many deaths of connection.
But as that death does its work, as I cannot help but face the new truths at hand, I am transformed. Like the philosophers in Plato’s cave, out of the crumbling disillusionment, I emerge into blinding painful light. With patience, painful endurance, and the necessary support of someone who loves me enough to reach for my hand in darkness. I can release the dying former realities that had so comforted me. As I let them go, my eyes adjust to the light, my mind adjusts to the new realities, my heart adapts to the new world I’m settling into. And with time, new life springs forth in these foreign lands.
Illusions certainly feel like a buoy when I am submitting to their power, but in hindsight, they are weighty and cumbersome. Part of me doubts them while they are alive and well, but fears disturbing or threatening them. As they are sloughed off, as I give into the grief of their loss, I am consumed with terror. But terror is followed by freedom, a freedom to move about the world as it truly is, less cautious of disturbing the myth, more free to touch and feel and encounter the stuff around me as it truly is, not as my illusions need it to be.
With enough of this new freedom, a person came come to embrace these deaths when she sees them coming. The swifter the embrace, the submission to the necessary process, the more seamless the transformation can be. And so, my days feel like a great collection of significant transformations that have brought me to where I am today. Instead of having simply been on a downward trajectory and then shifting upwards, I have been in an ongoing spiral always turning about and turning up.
A crucial element to good composting is turning. If you simply pile on waste, dirt will eventually form. There is a beautiful simplicity in that. But decomposition takes much longer this way, even years. If instead you turn your compost over and over, you create friction, stimulate chemistry, catalyze transformation. The quality of your dirt is enhanced and accelerated.
Turning brings new dead elements together. It mixes your food scraps with your dead leaves, it throws your earthworms into a new batch of material to devour, aerate, digest. Alone, a piece of spoiled food would remain that way. But when encountering other spoiled material, contrasting chemical elements, decomposing bugs, and heat, the spoiled becomes repurposed.
I have learned that to emerge from my darkness, certain deaths must take place. AND I cannot remain alone forever. I must find friends who can meet me in that place, who can stimulate and recharge me. And when those elements of transformation start to do their work in me, when the friends appear, I must reach out for them, and turn with them towards hope. Turn and turn again, towards the light. Towards new growth. Towards the possibility of yielding new fruit from the old.
[The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord]
Provide[s] for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.
Fruit my compost yields: