My bike computer needs a new battery, and so do I.
Did I really cycle any miles this week, if they aren’t recorded on the digital screen that sits on my handlebars? It can tell me that I am doing 15 mph for the last 100 metres before I turn the corner into my street, and that I can do an eye-watering 47 mph across stretches of the South Downs. But it blanked me this week, coming to life only briefly from time to time, to tell me I was doing 9.5 mph in traffic, or 5.1 mph up a steep hill with full panniers; but mostly statistics turned their back on me.
The lost numbers leave me with the niggling feeling that my efforts in the saddle in the bitter cold this past week, have been wasted. The digits witness my effort, egg me on, humble me; but most of all they remind me of the distance I have travelled, and the miles still to go.
On Wednesday evening, Jews mark the beginning of the minor, post-biblical eight day festival of Channucha. I mention it’s lowly status in the calendar only to correct the false impression many have of its importance, due to its proximity to Christmas. Despite it’s second tier status in the Jewish calender, it marks important events that happened thousands of years ago, whose significance still resonates today.
The Greek ruler of the Levant, Antiochus 1v, decreed that all the peoples under his rule should be as one. To this end, Judaism was effectively outlawed. Students of the 20th century will be familiar with archive footage of book burnings during the Third Reich. The same thing happened under the rule of Antiochus. The parallels are limited, for sure. Antiochus did not have genocidal intentions against the Jews. If The Jews of Europe suffered near annihilation in the 20th century, my middle eastern ancestors mounted a successful insurgency against their Greek – sponsored Syrian oppressors, and the festival marks not only their military victory, but most importantly, the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem – the focus of Jewish religious life.
So, while the events of Channucha mark the loss of Jewish autonomy in the biblical lands, and the ultimate restoration of the Jewish way of life under occupation, my stirring from the bog of depression marks a reckoning of its own.
As I trudge onto dry land, the stench of my ordeal still sharp in my nostrils, my limbs heavy with relief, I can pause only to reflect on what I have lost over these past months. The books unread, my books, the ink long-dry on their pages, that I have not been writing, and the time, the wretched time, that has gurgled away since The Dry Rot set in, back in the summer.
It is beyond the scope of this blog to explain all the layers of meaning, and significance of the candles we light to mark this festival over eight days every winter. However, it’s the words of the prophet Zechariah, that we read during Channucha that ring true for me, that I go back to: ‘And the angel that spoke with me returned, and waked me, as a man that is wakened out of sleep.’ (Zechariah Ch. 4 v. 1)
Depression really can feel like sleep, literally at times, sure, but also in my waking hours; the forgetfulness, the drug-induced sluggish motor skills, and The Hour of Lead, I have mentioned before. Over the past weeks and months, I have lost something that a new battery in my bike computer cannot restore, but I feel like I am waking up to some new possibilities and challenges, too.
A few years ago I read an engaging book about depression by the Welsh poet Gwyneth Lewis, called ‘Sunbathing in the Rain: A Cheerful Book About Depression’. Here’s a poetic expression by her of how mundane this malady can be.
Angel of Depression
Why would an angel choose to come here
if it weren’t important? Into stuffy rooms
smelling of cabbage? Into the tedium of time,
which weighs like gravity on any messenger
used to more freedom and who has to wear
a dingy costume, so as not to scare
the humans. Wouldn’t even an angel despair?
Don’t say it’s an honour to have fought
with depression’s angel. It always wears
the face of my loved ones as it tears
the breath from my solar plexus, grinds
my face in the ever-resilient dirt.
Oh yes, I’m broken but my limp
is the best part of me. And the way I hurt.
Gwyneth Lewis ( 1959-)