A medicine for melancholy

I have a clear memory of a Fantastic Four comic book that ends with the F.F. flying away into the clouds with patriarch Reed Richards saying, “Where there is life, there is hope.” I have searched high and low but haven’t been able to find that story again.

These are melancholy days as my beloved Red stays in a local hospice. We are cheered by her recovery from the chemotherapy; I confess that when she chose to end that aggressive treatment I thought we had only a few days left, so sick and so weak was she. A month later, she is close to her old self again, still in need of 24/7 care but — as far as anyone can tell — not really on the brink anymore. Lymphoma is an awful enemy, so we are grateful for these bonus days together, even as we wait for what the doctors insist is inevitable.

This was also the 17th anniversary of the morning my 82-year-old mother woke up and said her last words: “I have a terrible headache.” She was considered brain-dead when the family gathered the next night, and she died a few minutes after they turned off her machine.

I thought about the old comic book because the melancholy left me feeling hopeless, and I realized I needed to rally and lift myself up on the rising tide of hope.

Once again I couldn’t find where Reed Richards said, “Where there is life, there is hope.” But I did find where the apostle Paul said:

“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.”

It’s in Chapter 4 of the letter to the Philippians, right after he urged the early Christians to rejoice in the Lord always: “Let your gentleness be evident to all, and do not be anxious about anything but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God — and the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

My memory flashed to a long-ago personal crisis, when a marriage was crumbling and we went to a church service where that last encouraging phrase was the benediction.

As we stood to leave, I thought, “I wonder what that ‘peace that transcends all understanding’ feels like; I could use some of that about now.”

Suddenly I was filled with such an overwhelming peace that I almost fainted from the shock of that comforting feeling, literally. It only lasted a few seconds, because it jarred me so thoroughly, but the moment gave me a sure knowledge of what the apostle was talking about in his letter.

It’s a knowledge that allows me to chase whimsy in the face of the melancholy, and the memory helped me start to lift myself back up. And I plan to start thinking about the true, the honorable, and the rest of it the next time I’m faced with the silly nasties who inhabit antisocial media these days.

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