This Saturday evening/Sunday Jews celebrate the festival of Purim. It is in fact a minor festival, the events which it commemorates happened after the end of the bible. It recalls a foiled plot in Ancient Persia to annihilate that country’s Jewish population. The story ends happily for the Jews in that The King is persuaded to ignore the evil scheme of his Prime Minister Haman, and hangs him, along with his co-conspirators, instead of doing away with the Jewish population.
A cause for celebration certainly. But what is the connection between this relatively minor Jewsih festival, and cycling and depression? I must confess that this time, I cannot see a connection between cycling and the events of Purim. But there is a sinister connection with depression. I find the connection so striking that I thought of writing this post months ago.
On Purim it is traditional to dress up, including wearing masks. The simple reason relates to keeping the children entertained. But there is another reason, too. We read an account of the miraculous salvation of the Persian community in the Book of Esther twice during the Festival. The text is unique in the Jewish canon insofar as there is no mention of God. What do we learn from this? That in the case of the Jews in Persia the actions of the Almighty were hidden,disguised in the acts of his servants Esther and Moderchai.
In my view, the single most dangerous aspect of depression is the mask we wear to hide our true feelings. While it certainly makes life easier for those around us, it means that we are prone to act in desperate ways eventually.
That is one of the main reasons that I have been writing this blog – to unmask the world of depressive illness – it is a killer. The sheer amount of energy it takes to put on a brave face to the outside world carries a heavy price.
We Wear the Mask
We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,–
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.
Why should the world be overwise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.
We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!
Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906)