“Dear god, if you are a season, let it be the one I passed through to get here.”
– Ocean Vuong, “Notebook Fragments”
I have fallen in and out of the practice of waking up each morning and walking through the day, noting details I am thankful for—like the slant of sunlight at dawn illuminating dust particles in the air, the warmth of afternoon rays on skin, the way summer twilight must be named for flickering fireflies just as it is named for the daylight giving way to emerging evening stars.
“I feel hollow,” I told one of my friends a few months ago. The problem is that some details, when added up in life, take away—and my practice of gratitude wasn’t helping me feel any fuller. I could spend an eternity watching fireflies play their vanishing and reappearing acts, but those tiny lights aren’t enough to fill the silence, the loss, the holes.
I have been told by two separate therapists in two separate spaces during two separate times that, because of factors X, Y, and Z, depression will always hang on or hover over my shoulders. Like all chronic illness, I must find ways to “manage it,” which is really just jargon for finding a way to live with it.
My first therapist spoke often about finding joy, and my second on practicing gratitude, and I have found myself weighing my guilt during sermons because faith, at times, is painted as a mangled equation balanced with grace on one side—joy, hope and content on the other—and I wasn’t coming out even.
Maybe a month ago now, I was sitting in a church service and listening to a sermon on a passage from Ecclesiastes. Of all scripture, I have memorized scraps from the book on life under the sun most often throughout the past few years—having repeated certain lines over and over again.
“I think Solomon is trying to tell us to live in the moment and seize the day because our time on earth is fleeting,” the pastor said.
I think Solomon is depressed.
For all its talk on seasons, the church does not always sit well with humans in lament. The story of grace is, after all, that grace is enough and so it should be enough. I will not deny the ability of small details to remind me. Still, grace is not always a shout. Sometimes, it’s a whisper. Sometimes, it’s day zero, rather than the third day. In those moments, the practice of gratitude feels forced. Fake. Like the difference between nice and kind. I think it’s because the story of grace is also that this world is still broken; it isn’t meant to be enough. Not here. Not now. Not yet.
Every once in a while, when things get really bad, I find myself with my knees on the floorboards because I can’t make it the few steps from the bed to the door. It’s an artless, innate posture to pray, yet I find myself mumbling “why am I so pathetic” before “please” and then, finally, a whisper: “Just stand up. All you have to do is stand.”
When I am trying to push myself off the floor, it is not the thought of fireflies that encourages me to stand. It is the hope that there is something more to the darkness. That these moments, when added up, do not appear as blank spaces in time. That there is content to the hollowness.
The world is carved by so many hollow spaces. It is carved by grief, heartache, loss. Homes lost to flood waters or fire. Chronic hunger, thirst, sickness. Silence. When we do not feel like conquerors, what then do we say?
There is a time for everything.
When times are good, be happy;
but when times are bad, consider this:
God has made the one as well as the other.
He has made everything beautiful in its time.
He has also set eternity in the human heart.
Sometimes, I think of eternity in terms of strings. That everything in life—the bits of wonder, the aching holes—are attached to something greater, and that acknowledging hollow spaces is one of the most faithful things humans can do.
This world is not enough, but grace is, and I have noticed that some humans shimmer in the darkness. It must be something about light shining through cracks.
Cassie Westrate (’14) graduated with a double major in writing and international development studies. She currently lives in West Michigan, where she works as a writer, hangs out with her pet bird, and fights crime by night. Just kidding about the crime.