Reflection - Les Misérables
The recent wet, cold and windy weather that marked the arrival of winter in New Zealand brought back to mind a story told by Irish singer, Colm Wilkinson in a radio interview. At the time he was starring in the musical "Les Misérables" and was visiting a wet and cold Dublin. A women in a supermarket recognised him and he was greatly amused by her greeting which was, "Isn’t the weather just Les Miz!”
So I find myself thinking about connections between the weather, depression and the musical "Les Miserables". Many people talk about the effect weather has on our spirits and in particular how bad weather can leave people feeling depressed.
Depression is a major issue for many in our world and takes many forms, including some that have no obvious triggers or treatments. We might be familiar with bipolar disorder but probably the most common form of depression is called 'reactive depression'. It is brought on by adverse life situations often involving significant loss. What we feel during bad weather fits this category but here the depression is often short term as our spirits usually lift as soon as the sun comes out again.
For those with clinical depression the negative impacts are more serious, long term and resistant to change. However, how we feel during a prolonged spell of bad weather does give us a small sense of what is going on in those suffering from more serious types of depression. Because it is a form of suffering that is invisible and so is often misunderstood, generating all kinds of unhelpful advice, anything that makes us more aware and more sympathetic cannot but be helpful.
The good news in recent times is that some of the stigma and shame that surrounded depression in the past have been lifted. Prominent people have come out and talked about their own experience. Here in New Zealand John Kirwan, a former All Black, is one of those who is at the fore front of changing attitudes and responses and giving fresh hope to sufferers. Breaking the silence that has surrounded not just depression but many forms of mental illness is a very hopeful sign and a significant mission to those who are suffering.
This is where we find another connection to the musical “Les Misérables”. It too is a story about suffering, about the "wretched of the earth" and the adverse conditions, poverty and powerlessness that impacts their lives. In our time there is good news also for the poor as they find ways to break the silence and bring about change in their lives. They are recognising the triggers of poverty and naming the political, economic, social, environmental and religious policies and practices that lead to it. Like those who suffer depression, they are challenging notions that their situation is somehow their own fault or the will of God and in the process are being empowered to bring about change. Their goal is to make poverty history.
The final song in the musical asks, "Do you hear the people sing, deep in the valley of the night, it is the music of a people that are climbing to the light?"
I had a very vivid and concrete experience recently of climbing to the light. I left the ground at Wellington airport in the wind and rain and in a few minutes burst through the clouds into blue skies and sunshine. Mission as the task of spreading good news is surely about this kind of transformation from darkness to light for those suffering depression and for the wretched of the earth and working with them to facilitate a brighter future.
Fr Patrick O’Shea lives at St Columban’s, Lower Hutt, New Zealand.
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