I feel sad and numb. It crept up on me. I’m the guy who says that everything is going to turn out alright, I’m the guy who comforts and listens, I’m the guy who points out problems, but still helps others see a speck of light in the gloom. In a pinch, I’m the guy you can rely on.
“Gee, there’s another fire ravaging our pandemic-stressed community,” I point out. “It’ll be OK though,” I add. I might flavor my reassurance it with a cynical remark, but my mood compass generally points to an optimistic north.
A friend once said to me, “Whenever I’m worried that something might not turn out OK, I remember that most things turn out OK, so I rely on that and I’m good.” Most of the time, I agree.
I’m not feeling it now. I’m pretty low-key anyway; my regular vibe is a mélange of soft-spoken, calm, melancholy and detached, so most people can’t tell the difference between me-normal-quiet and me-sad-numb, but it’s there.
I work hard at my job, and I think I manage it well. I also work hard at my marriage, and I have 32 years of marital history to tell me that it’s working out OK, but my life has narrowed to just that, work and home. It’s an enormous effort to extend any farther.
I got a glimpse of my symptoms Sunday, when I texted a former colleague to acknowledge her birthday. “Happy birthday, my friend,” I tapped out on my smartphone message app. “Hard to feel happy or optimistic in this crazy time.”
When I reread the text a few hours later, I cringed. My friend has been through a lot, living with the annual stress and disruption of life on a remote ranch in fire country, and I failed in my self-appointed duty to tell her that everything’s going to be OK.
I saw it again this past week, reflecting on another friend; she lost her family home in the Walbridge Fire. My friend is a writer, and is one of the people most responsible for me becoming a writer. I owe her so much.
Did I call? Did I pack the car with provisions and run to help? Did I offer my home, my heart, my money to my friend and mentor? Nope, I didn’t even send a text until a couple of days later, and I still haven’t connected by telephone or in person. I feel ashamed.
If I’m failing as a friend (and a guy like me doesn’t have many friends), how do I pivot? How do I wake up from my sad, inward-turning slumber and start helping again?
As my friends in recovery say, I have to start with admitting that I’m powerless over certain things in my life. But, as any communications consultant will tell you, the best way to change a difficult story is to tell a new one.
That’s my plan, to admit that I’m struggling and to work like hell to change the story. And, you get to read about it. I spent 20 years in this role, writing hundreds of columns about community, politics, people and myself – and two years ago, I walked away abruptly. I didn’t know how much it meant to me until I was invited to come back.
I’ll be writing about the big things that occupy my mind – climate change, white privilege, gentrification and politics – but I’ll also look for small stories to tell, about me, about you and about your community.
I won’t let you down.
Ray Holley is changing the story. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.