No matter how many times I remind myself what amazingly good fortune I have — to be well, warmly housed, fed, and loved, at a time when billions of people just as real as myself are not —there comes a moment almost every day, lately, when a strange melancholy strikes me, for no logical reason, and stays as long as it wants.
One reason for that sad feeling, I’ve discovered, is a psychological condition that has increasingly affected me since I passed the landmark of age 50. For lack of a name, I call it “Phantom Friend Syndrome.”
You might have felt it, if you’ve ever been out shopping and noticed in the crowd a friend you haven’t seen in years, or maybe decades.
Just as you’re about to go over and hug him or her, something deep in your brain says, “Wait. Think, for a second.”
And deep from the recesses of your mind comes the realization, “No. My friend would be 60 by now, not 30.” And micro-seconds afterward, the realization: “Your friend is gone. Remember?”
And in that moment, you stop and think about how many friends and loved ones have passed on. A dark and sobering thought, especially when there’s no reason whatsoever that you, yourself, shouldn’t be next.
Melancholy ‘R’ Me.
So, at this time of year one goes looking for inspiration and cheering-up, if only to get through the next couple of weeks. One might even go to the New Testament.
The Book of Luke, say.
Jesus, somewhere around Chapter 9, Verse 60, says, “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom,”
I’m no Bible scholar, but I’m guessing that Jesus was not (a) saying that we shouldn’t maintain our family cemeteries, and was not (b) saying that we shouldn’t remember our deceased loved ones in our hearts, at any time of year.
If I had to guess, I would say that the only remedy for Phantom Friend Syndrome during the Christmas season is based in a quote that a friend sent me this week, from a California writer named Anne Lamott. Lamott has survived a life of addictions and tragedies, partly with the help of what most people would call a small “fundamentalist” Pentecostal church in her neighborhood. And her writings are even known to offend her fellow believers, sometimes on a daily basis.
“Sometimes,” Lamott writes, “I give up, and say, ‘God, I need help.’
“And God says, ‘Well, isn’t that a coincidence? I need help, too. Do you see that elderly lady across the street from you? You go take care of her, and I’ll be working on your case.”
Could it be possible that “proclaiming the kingdom” consists largely of love and warmth and food to people in need? Day in, day out, every time of year?
I wouldn’t bet against it.
And Merry Christmas, to you and your loved ones, most of whom you haven’t yet met.
Dale Short is a native of Walker County. His columns, photos, and radio features are available on his website, carrolldaleshort.com. His weekly radio program "Music from Home" airs each Sunday at 6 pm on Oldies 101.5 FM, streams live online at www.oldies1015fm.com, and is archived afterward on his website.