One of my favorite movies from my youth is To Sir With Love. As a teacher, Sidney Poitier comes into the life of a class of high school students, and through his example and unconditional belief in them, teaches them dignity.
If we are lucky, we will have someone who comes into our lives with such a belief in us that we are forever transformed. It's preferable they show up in one's youth, but the impact of such a presence can be transformative at any age.
I had the good fortune of having such a person show up a few years ago. I have alluded to having had clinical depression. It's not necessary to go into details about it, but it was so severe that I spent most of my adult years in a paralysis of darkness. The last couple of decades I sat in my house crying and watching I Love Lucy.
Back in 2009 while living in Van Nuys I saw an interview with Parker Palmer on Bill Moyers Journal that completely blew me away. The theme was the heartache of loss Americans were feeling due to The American Dream being tested by economic challenges. However, he spent a few moments talking about his own battle with clinical depression to draw a parallel to how monumental economic losses might be experienced by our society. It was the most stunning and compassionate explanation of the interior world of depression that I have ever heard, and his advice to those dealing with loved ones with depression was so right-on that I recommend watching this video of the interview if you can.
At the time of watching it I was in my usual dark place, unable to do much of anything. But I sat down and wrote Parker a heartfelt letter and emailed it to his nonprofit organization Center for Courage & Renewal. After sending it, I looked at C.C.R.'s website again and noticed that he had written a note regarding that interview. So many people were taken with what he said about depression that he was overwhelmed with responses and said it was not possible to reply. All of my hopes were dashed that I would hear from him.
Several weeks passed and to my surprise I received a personal email from Parker himself. He was so taken with my letter that he felt he should respond. I couldn't believe it, and I was so happy that my letter moved him. Since then we have been in communication infrequently by email and phone.
In all of our correspondences one thing has been clear: he believes in me. And I would say that belief in me has been a major source of healing. Though he is a wise and knowledgeable person, he has never advised me but rather responds to my ideas and notions with great honor. Perhaps he saw something in my letter that indicated with a little encouragement I might just make it. I never did ask.
Though my interactions with Parker are few and will be even less as he is busy with the promotion of his timely book Healing the Heart of Democracy that is so well-received and pertinent that he will be in great demand for years to come, I do consider him my friend. Since I have very few friends I have expanded my definition of friendship. The time and commitment it takes to nurture friendships is not available to people I meet; therefore, I've decided that anyone who wishes me well is a friend. Fortunately that number is many. Parker, without a doubt, falls into that category. Whatever form our correspondence takes, he always closes with these words, "I will hold you in the light." It is comforting to know he is out there holding me in the light, and I do the same for him every chance I get.
To Parker With Love...