Poor in Spirit

Matthew 5:3      Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

What this saying from the Beatitudes has meant to me personally is that those who suffer from depression will someday inherit the lightness of happiness. I admit it; I’m in the middle of a depressive episode right now. It crept up on me, soon overtaking even my desire to get out of bed in the morning.

I’m up today, I’ve even had a bath and put on street clothes. Never mind that it took me until 2:30 pm to do it. I’m doing the things you are supposed to do to come out of such a period: taking my medicine, going to the gym, walking. But sometimes, depression is as sticky as superglue, and the usual measures will not remove it.

What is a day in this mind-set like? Well, you get up and get a cup of coffee. (Thank God the coffee maker is automatic; otherwise, you might just do without.) You get back in bed and think, I am going to get the house ready for Thanksgiving today. You look at the clock and think, I’ll just wait another hour. And then I’ll get up and do it. I want the house to look nice.

You walk to the kitchen and stand in the doorway and think, well, I’m hungry though, so I’ll eat something first. So, you eat breakfast, but then you feel tired again. I’ll just go lie back down for another hour, and then I’ll clean the house.

By now, it’s four o’clock in the afternoon. Your mood becomes even gloomier because now it’s too late to get the house clean, and you’ve wasted a whole day. Maybe I’ll feel better tomorrow. I’ll just go to bed early, and I’ll have the energy to do it tomorrow.

This kind of depression is not related at all to whether things in your life are going well or not. It doesn’t mean that you are existentially unhappy. It just sits atop your happiness like a wool blanket weighted with heavy rocks. You know you could be happy if you could just lift this blanket off. Instead, you crawl onto the couch and turn on the TV, allowing the blanket to continue enveloping you.

What helps to get me out of this? I don’t know what I would do without my supportive wife. She takes care of me when I cry for no reason, makes me laugh, and helps me get out of the house. We have just started attending a church where the people we have met there seem genuinely interested in getting to know us. That makes me feel better. And, of course, I know that God never gives up on me; in fact, God has reserved the kingdom of heaven for me and has called me blessed. I’ll go with that.



Waiting to catch the bus on Grand Avenue in St. Louis today, I observe the life around me. I stand under a sycamore tree by the Carpenter Branch Library and look across the street at Pope St. Pius Church. From our brownstone apartment, we hear its bells tolling the hour, half-hour, and Mass. Its facade seems to be of sandstone, and I often wish my life were as ordered and smooth as those stones.

The bus departs, and I watch the stores, houses, and apartments go by. I look at their windows and wonder who lives behind that dark window there and that shuttered one down past the Aldi grocery. To what scenes do the occupants of these brick duplexes awaken each morning? Some see only the bricks of the building next door. Some are blessed with the presence of a tall, resplendent maple. Do they see it?

A lady wearing a pink hoodie walks her little, short-legged black dog across Grand. Women in saris and sandals pass, pulling fold-up carts filled with groceries. A man with a cigarette behind each ear eats something grilled from Taco Bell. People board and get off the bus, each carrying bags and private burdens. What are their lives like?

From what window does the older lady with braided hair and a purple cashmere sweater peer after climbing the stairs to her rooms? Does she know her neighbors? What must she think of the white lady down the street who has a “Black Lives Matter” sign in her yard? Does that white lady really have any idea what black lives are like?

I wonder how the postwoman’s knees are feeling now that she has climbed her 50th set of stairs today with 50 yet to go. She wears a floppy blue denim hat and carries her postal bag heavy with bills and circulars that will end up in the trash. She straightens her back after pushing catalogs through the mail slot in someone’s door where cheerfully carved pumpkins and bright yellow mums adorn the stoop, while at the next, weeds and beer cans attest to a darker season in someone’s life.

It begins to rain as I wait at the stop to return home, the rain plastering fresh-fallen leaves to the ground and telling the wind he cannot take them. I board the bus and sit by the window. A woman passes in the aisle asking anyone for 50 cents; no one offers.

Off the bus now and walking up the stairs to my front porch, I enter my apartment and lower the window into which the rain is creeping. I look out on maples, brownstones, beauty, and, yes, beer cans. My upstairs neighbors live in an unhappy season; their eyes are blank to the splendor of the leaves and the graces of the breeze. I hear them arguing upstairs again against the backdrop of gently falling rain, soothing rain, if only they could hear it. It falls just outside their windows.