When Fred said he was depressed I didn’t argue. Who am I to deny that statement? Depression is a complex issue, affecting both the body and mind with a weightiness that can overpower the strongest soul.
Glimpsing some of Fred’s social strengths, at first I doubted his depression claim, and brushed it off, hoping he was being dramatic. Afterall, I was ill-prepared to deal with such a serious condition. Moreover, having to do so with a virtual stranger scared me.
Eventually our conversations lengthened and revealed that Fred lives alone, has lost his wife, feels like a burden on his daughter, and regrets being alive.
He struggles to understand why he, a man who’s had an octuple bypass surgery and various other health problems survived his wife, whom died within days of suffering a stroke. The injustice of it fuels his bitterness, for she was his “soul mate, a wonderful mother, wife, gardener and cook.”
His depression became more plausible when one day I saw him sitting in the hot sun and suggested that it would be better for him to come out later in the evening when it would be cooler, but he refused. He explained that he’s always alone in the house and that there’s no one to talk to; just the TV to watch, so he needed to come outside to watch the action and speak to passers-by who would break the monotony of his life.
Not one to give up easily, I suggested that he could also meet people at the library or find a group of people with similar interests there, but he said he didn’t want to go into the library, and I sensed that I shouldn’t press the issue.
Since he was reluctant to expain his reasons for shunning the library, I can only assume that it might be the fact that it’s enclosed, or maybe it’s because libraries are expected to be quiet, while he seeks a chatty, unrestricted atmosphere.
Perhaps having a fine garden at the library would please him. That way he could meet people and be outside at the same time. Maybe he could even participate in one of those community garden schemes. I imagine that tending a garden (of vegtables or plants) has a theraputic effect, since it epitomizes the cycle of life. However, no such program currently exists in our neighbourhood.
On another occasion he questioned the value of procreation, stating that it’s pointless. Even though I suggested that his daughter, whom he proudly labels a humanitarian, is an example of the benefits of procreation, he maintained that even her creation was a mistake. From his perspective, he’s done her a disservice by bringing her into this faulty world.
Similarly, when I suggested that he read books because reading could help him fight the dementia he says he’s been diagnosed with, and generally keep his mind active, he rejected the idea. He’d given up reading, despite having several unread gifts from some of his well-rounded friends.
In the past, reading might’ve been an acceptable suggestion, but now reading triggered more ghost-busting sessions in his mind, for he’d lost contact with some of his most valued friends while staying in a nursing home and hospitals over the years.
After each conversation, I learned more about Fred, and he about me. It seems I’ve even become an information resource for him, but I thought nothing of our brief, and almost daily interactions until one day he saw me approaching from a different direction, much later than normal and he asked where I’d been, for he’d been expecting me. It was then that I realized that maybe I had become a part of his routine.
Despite that revelation, it wasn’t until yesterday that I realized how powerful these interactions are.
As I approached his house, I saw him sitting in his regular spot: close to the sidewalk, and beneath the leafy green branches of the small maple tree in his front yard. A middle-aged man stood beside his white garden chair and walker, talking to him. And although I tried not to interrupt, I couldn’t help myself when I saw what was on his lap.
“I see you’re reading a book,” I said to him, pointing at the cream-covered book on his lap.
He looks down and laughs, “Yes! I am.”
“You’ll have to tell me about your book next time.”
“Ha hah! Okay!” he agrees, as he leans back and laughs before saying goodbye.
I didn’t expect Fred to start reading because I encouraged him to, but I had hoped he would. And now that he has, I can say that Mahatma Ghandi was ever so accurate when he said: “You may never know what results come of your action, but if you do nothing there will be no result.”
Fred, with book in hand, made my day. So now I imagine that other changes may come about for him in time, and maybe instead of feeling undeserving of life, he may harness his energy and further take charge of how he enjoys this gift, even as he outlasts others.