My Private Little Cave

Frank Schaeffer, Crazy for God (Cambridge: Carroll and Graf, 2007) 136-137.

After talking a little about his dad’s depression, Frank offers the following insights:

Suffering from bouts of depression, I have come to understand that the choice is to carry on or not, no matter how I feel. And since my dad literally had no close friends, let alone a confessor or therapist to talk to, his suffering was in near-total isolation. When that bleak grayness envelops everything for a few days or hours and sucks all the joy and air out of a day, as a writer I can just shut the world out, if I want, and retire to some inner cave and nurse my depression. Dad craved privacy, too, but his work was people. And Dad never sought counseling.

For me, today was one of those days. Every once in a while, I go to downtown Cincinnati. There are times when I don’t care what people think of me, or I’m happy because I’m singing or entertaining myself in my mind. My mood is carefree, and people around me in downtown Cincinnati seem pretty nice. But then there are times when I feel depressed, lonely, angry, and disconnected from people. I look at a pretty girl, she doesn’t look back, and I grumble, grumble, grumble. My mind eventually turns to my Asperger’s, and I wonder if I’ll ever have a life in which I’ll be able to support myself, let alone find a mate. And if I find a mate, will I be able to get along with her and sustain the relationship, since I’m a pretty boring guy, plus I can get moody, annoyed, and temperamental. And my mind then goes back to my bad social experiences in the past. I begin to think that my life sucks, always has, and always will. When my mood is like this, I need to retreat to my private little cave and nurse my depression.

I don’t know what I’ll do if I have a job and this mood hits me. Many people are able to hide their bad moods, but I feel mine seeps through my face. How will I be able to be around people if such a mood strikes?

Fortunately, I feel better now, but that’s for the following reasons: (1.) I don’t have to impress anybody in my private little cave; (2.) while I was reading about Origen, I watched all the Twilight Zones I had on my DVR, and some of them were actually good (on Saturdays, I watch Joyce Meyer and Jimmy Swaggart); and (3.) I wrote a lot, and doing something constructive and creative helps me cope with my depression.

In a sense, I nursed my depression, but that brings me to (4.): it gets to the point in the day where my mind starts to think negative thoughts, and I’m about to grumble, grumble, grumble, but I realize I’m tired of grumbling, so I throw my hands in the air and say, “Why bother? Let it go!”

I prefer not to answer the phone when I’m in my bad mood, since I don’t want to yell at my family. Sometimes, however, I’m surprised when I don’t. Last Thursday, after coming home from downtown, I was in the same sort of mood I was in today. After an afternoon of grumbling, grumbling, grumbling, I check my e-mail and see a problem with my financial aid (which fortunately got resolved). I called my mom, and I rationally expressed my frustrations and asked for suggestions on what I should do. I may have raised my voice, but I didn’t yell at her, as I have in the past. Maybe all my pent-up anger was tired for the day.

Frank talks about one way his father dealt with his depression: he went to his room and played classical music really loud. Of course, once he went out of his room, L’Abri students would bombard him with theological and philosophical questions. But he did have some measure of privacy inside of his room.

And, although Frank doesn’t portray his mother Edith as depressed, my impression is that she coped with life through her own “private little cave”: prayer. According to Frank, his family and the people at L’Abri marked half-hour time slots that were devoted to prayer. Edith usually took three hours or more. Frank portrays his mother as a spiritual super-woman, someone who wanted to show everyone that she was more spiritual than them. That could be, but I think one would really have to enjoy or need prayer to do it for three solid hours!

In my pool-side reading of Portofino this morning (after I returned from downtown Cincinnati), Frank says that Elsa (Edith) made her husband mad when she went to the lighthouse with her Bible and prayed for three solid hours. Her husband had just thrown all her clothes out the window, and threatened to toss her out too (as the character had done many times before). So she left the house, went to the lighthouse, and prayed. Her husband thought she was just showing off her spirituality.

Maybe she was. But, let me tell you, there are certain people who make me want to go to a private place and commune with God or myself for three solid hours! There have been times when I’ve come home and have prayed for about that amount of time, and it’s not because I’m super-spiritual! I needed that time to recover from my day, to go from desolation to consolation (to use Joan of Arcadia terminology–see Joan of Arcadia: Desolation and Consolation).

Prayer is supposed to put us into a better mood, and it often can–until I have to interact with people again. You see something like that in Portofino. Not long after her prayer, Elsa’s having a meal with her kids, and her husband comes along. She gives him some of her chicken, and he sarcastically thanks her. Eventually, he knocks all the plates onto the floor.

I’ve not had experiences that were this bad, but I had plenty where I’d pray in my room and get in a good mood. Then, I’d go out and greet my roommates with a cheerful smile, and they’d say “Hi James” in their less-than-enthusiastic tone. Or I’d pray, feel pretty good, and go to school, to put up with the people there. Prayer is a good coping mechanism, but it doesn’t always replace being able to interact with people–successfully, that is.

So I identify with Elsa. But I also identify with her husband. I can get into a mood in which everything and everyone annoys me. In that sort of situation, I need my private little cave to recuperate. But what will I do when I have to be around people all the time: if I have a job, or a family of my own, etc.?

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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