On the train, we sit separately because so many people are travelling.
From where I am I can look up the carriage towards Martin facing me. He holds up his phone and takes a picture of my withering expression.
In these moments I think about how different it could have been had he not stopped drinking. How he probably wouldn’t be on this train or any longer in this world.
When I saw him that Christmas before he went into rehab, nearly twelve years ago, I didn’t see much evidence he was going to stop and, if you asked him, he didn’t appear to believe it himself even in the face of a potentially terminal diagnosis.
But something stronger, perhaps imperceptible at that time, had different plans.
There is a small boy in the seat opposite. His grandfather is adjacent. I have headphones in so that I can watch people without them thinking I am listening to their conversation.
After a brief exchange between the small boy and grandfather the child’s face falls and he begins to cry. His grandfather tries to console him with a gentle smile, but the boy pushes the man’s thick fingers away.
The grandfather sits back, his posture open, a gentle smile on his face reserved exclusively for his distressed young companion.
We, Martin and I, are on our way to see The National at Alexandra Palace.
I’ve been thinking a lot this week about Matt Berninger’s much-publicised struggle with depression and writer’s block prior to the writing of their recent album “First Two Pages Of Frankenstein.”
Whatever else got him through it, patience and the belief that there was a way to do so must have played a part.
In this piece by Amanda Petrusich in “The New Yorker”, he describes his doubt,
“If I’m here now feeling this, I don’t know if it’s done me any good,” he remembered thinking. “I feel disconnected from all my friends, I feel disconnected from everything, I don’t feel like I’ve learned anything, I don’t feel like I’m necessarily a kinder, wiser person.
”Yet spend a few minutes in the crowd at a National show and it becomes obvious that the band’s music can bring about a kind of catharsis. It opens up space for mourning—both the big losses and the tiny, mundane, endless ones.”
Working with a new client this week in the midst of a depression he has experienced before but which has taken him down this time with brutal force, he tells me,
“I always know I’ll get through it.”
In that moment I remembered telling my therapist the same thing at a point in my depression when there appeared to be absolutely no evidence to support such a hubristic claim.
I don’t really know what it is that enables us to maintain faith in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds but “having faith in the process,” which is how an old supervisor of mine once described the importance of holding someone through periods of doubt and stuckness in therapy, makes a world of difference.
On the train, I am still watching the small boy and marvelling at the tenacity of his grandfather who must now have had his attempts to comfort pushed away a dozen times.
Not once does the old man look exasperated or bereft of belief.
He is relentless, as he steps back and then forward in a dance which eventually brings a narrow smile to the face of the child.