Do not cast me off in the time of old age; do not forsake me when my strength is spent. (Psalm 71:9)
The iconic golfer, Arnold Palmer, talked about the end of his competitive golf career. “He said, ‘It was a tough week, ending my career as a competitive player there, knowing that I wouldn’t go out and try to win one more. Yep, it’s hell to get old.’” Palmer wasn’t clinically depressed, but he was experiencing melancholia. Melancholy isn’t something we should medicate or even fight against. Melancholia is in the mind and perhaps is the Holy Spirit’s call for attention.
I found Arnold Palmer’s story in Thomas Moore’s book, “Ageless Soul.” I’ve referenced this book before, because it is so helpful. Moore points out that, “There is an art to dealing with emotions, and art itself can help.” Rather than chastising one’s self for one’s feelings, or trying to ignore them, finding ways to interact with our feelings of melancholia can help us find out what the mind or the Holy Spirit is trying to say. Music, for example, speaks to the heart and mind differently from simple rational thought. Moore provides the example, “A song that touches me with both sadness and romance is Eric Clapton’s ‘Wonderful Tonight.’ Willie Nelson’s ‘September Song’ is another popular song that links melancholy with love, as is Leonard Cohen’s ‘Suzanne.’” Music is just one example of art that can tenderize us enough to address our melancholy. Have you ever choked up at a movie?
For the elderly, like Arnold Palmer, melancholy is often experienced as things that are regularly taken away. Palmer’s pro career was taken away by advancing years. The elderly, in time, have their driving, their health, and their friends taken away from them. Melancholia isn’t an option, but a reality for any elderly person who is honest with himself or herself. Who wouldn’t be melancholy when so much is being taken away?
What makes melancholia a healthy response, rather than one that slides into destructive depression, is one’s ability to evaluate and respond to the feeling of melancholia. Whether you read poetry, listen to or play music, paint, watch an emotional movie, or dance like you’re riding a pogo stick, soften yourself up enough to think through your feelings and face your frustrations. Invite the Holy Spirit into your thoughts, so God can weave strength and wisdom into the healthy responses you make. Melancholia is an opportunity to address struggles and make hopeful transformations. I pray that you and I will have the courage and tenderness to face our melancholia with determination and a few tears. (Don’t tell anyone, but I still tear up at the end the movie “Rudy.”)