On Mixing Roux and Words
A GREAT DEPRESSION
Written by ELLEN BRADFORD. Last updated Tuesday July 6th, 2010
Editor’s note: This is another in a series of essays written by my wife, Ellen, in 1981, then filed away and forgotten. Until late last year, I had never seen them. It is my hope that they will serve as a catalyst for more personal essays by her from 2010 onward as long as she feels like writing. -Duane Bradford
By ELLEN BRADFORD
I got fired from this job I really liked. That was the time I learned about the word "depression". And I figured out why all the people in my parents’ generation spoke that word the way they did.
I suppose it doesn’t really matter if the depression is personal or world wide.
"Depression" descended on me and kept me company for a long time -- a long enough time to teach me some very valuable things: that I was right about some things and wrong about others; that I could make do with much less than I thought I could; and that I was not too old to learn some important lessons.
Being without ’work’ meant a severely reduced income, so I learned to do without many ’things’. I learned to eat better because all the junk I had once had at my fingertips was no longer affordable. Changing from a big house to a small one meant less housework, so I could garden, and I liked it. Seeds cost a lot less than the canned and frozen vegetables, and I enjoyed the exercise. And, I didn’t need heels and pantyhose or skirts or new winter coats for work in the garden.
More importantly, I learned a lot of things about myself. One thing I hope I never forget is that I don’t always really feel what I think I am feeling. When engineers on the west coast, or automakers in Detroit, or miners in Appalachia are out of work, I used to think I knew how bad they must feel. I didn’t. When a friend lost the ability to do work he loved, I told him I knew how he felt, but I really didn’t. Now I do. And I hope I am never able to forget.
I found out I was gullible enough to be convinced that I am not worth much, when I know better -- and have proved it. I found out that I had better not take as fact someone else’s opinion of my own worth without getting at least one second opinion, and a little bit of realistic investigation into the validity of the opinion that makes me think I am not capable.
Like most adults, I liked to think I could judge a person’s real character as soon as I met him. I know better now. I know that people who appear strong-willed and principled can sometimes crumble under the least bit of pressure because there is no real foundation to their character. I am learning to watch more carefully for real character strengths and to be taken in less by appearances. I am being more cautious; trying to refrain from judging people until I can be sure I have a chance to see behind the mask too many people wear to make themselves look good when they are less than good; to make themselves look strong when they are really weak; to make themselves look important when they are truly very insignificant.
So many people in this world are really important, and let themselves appear less so. I want to be able to recognize them. So many people are strong and good -- but because they do not stand on top of the church steeple and shout how good and strong and important they are, we think they are not. I have been wrong. But I intend to be more watchful from now on. I have a bead on those quiet people who are not shouting.
God changed shape for me during those months, too. I have struggled to see God as something more than a kindly old gentleman who is sitting on a billowy white cloud and smiles when we do a good deed, and zaps us when we do a bad deed (or at least writes it down for future reference) -- and who, if we pray hard enough, will zap our enemies for us when they do something that displeases us.
It was a stunning blow to discover, in the midst of a crisis I hardly understood, that God was not going to pick me up and dust me off and set me on my feet again. I would have to do it myself. And that is the gift. I have been given the ability and the free will to pick myself up and dust myself off and get up and go again.
Me and Muhammad Ali.