When I was a child, one of the highlights of my year was getting the Sears Christmas Wish Book. For about six weeks before Christmas, my sisters and I would go through that catalog over and over again, choosing exactly what we wanted and marking our top choices.
I remember wanting walkie-talkies and chemistry sets and electronics kits, among other things. There were always things I hoped for. Some years, I even got what I wanted.
Did I enjoy the gifts I got? Very much. I have fond memories of playing with other kids in the neighborhood with my walkie-talkies. I fascinated myself for many hours as I learned about electronics. And I joyfully mixed up disgusting things with my chemistry set. (I tried to dye the hair of one of my sister’s dolls, but I somehow turned the plastic hair green. Ooops.)
As much as I enjoyed playing with the things I got for Christmas, though, the gifts never matched the excitement and anticipation of looking forward to Christmas. Eventually, I came to understand that having something to look forward to is even more important than the things I have at the moment.
I have this on my mind today because I keep thinking about some of the things I read in my father’s journals from the last couple of years of his life. (I mentioned some of this in my discussion Wednesday of the anniversary of his death.)
“Very down and depressed most of the time now,” he wrote on Oct. 26, 2017. “Think often of death and possibility of taking my life. I have nothing to live for or look forward to.”
He lived in a very nice home in an upscale suburban neighborhood. (He rented from a couple who lived in the rest of the house and they became his friends.) He didn’t lack for the material things he needed to live out his days. But he had nothing to look forward to, so he wanted to die.
There are a lot of things which I don’t have that I want in my life right now. I don’t live in the sort of neighborhood I want. I don’t have the sort of house I want. I don’t have the wife and family I want. I don’t have the income I want. I don’t have the achievements I want.
But I have something that might be more important than all of that. I have hope and faith. I believe I’m going to have all the things I want — and I eagerly look forward to having each and every item on my list. And more.
A psychologist once told me that resilience was the only thing that had saved me from the burden of the emotional trauma which I had experienced early in life.
“I’ve never known anyone who was more resilient than you are,” she said. “You always find a way to take every setback and traumatic event and reinterpret it so it will mean you have a future to look forward to.”
I hadn’t thought about it before. I just assumed everyone did that.
I’ve had some serious disappointments over the years. As I dug deeper into my emotional health, I found all sorts of damage to overcome. As I worked on those issues, I sometimes found myself headed down roads which I wouldn’t have planned to take.
Objectively, I should feel despair about some of the things I’ve gone through, but I don’t. Why? Just because I honestly expect to have the things I want before long. I expect to find love with the right woman. I expect to have a family of some kind with her. I expect to achieve a series of financial and creative goals that I have in mind.
As I look at my father’s depressed journal notes, I realize that he created a life he hated — and he didn’t think he had anything to look forward to. That lack of hope depressed him and it eventually killed him.
His death certificate didn’t say he killed himself, but the choices he made meant slow suicide.
I want more in life than I have right now, but I never want to get to the point that I have everything I could possibly want. If I ever do, I fear that I might start dying quickly, too.
Fortunately, I have a lot left to accomplish. I have a long way to go. I have many years of love and achievements to look forward to.
Despair can bring death to a physically healthy person — but hope can bring life.