Requiem for a sunny September afternoon
I suffer from bouts of depression.

I mention this because when you're depressed, the world is not a confusing place. It's very simple, which is to say that it is bleak. It is the unremitting grey of a November morning, in junior high school — before classes got interesting, but after they were nothing but fun — on the school bus, with rain streaking the windows, when the only pause from the monotone droning of a lifeless world are in those brief moments of panic when you realise that you have forgotten your homework; that you've left your meal ticketbook at home, and won't be able to have lunch, that your friend has the flu and has to stay home, sick.

Depression is the absence of color and the absence of hope, but more important it is the absence of memory. It is forgetting that there is sunlight in the world, that there are those brief moments of serendipity on which a good mood turns. A playful dog, capering at the end of its leash; a clever bit of graffiti, a joke, a snippet of music, the smell of a barbecue.

Today, 11 September, 2011, was a beautiful day. I got up early, as has become my custom, and made a cup of darjeeling tea, which I had as breakfast with an apple from the store down the street. I finished redoing my website; I listened to a stunning number from a revival of Anything Goes. I wandered up to the Mauerpark, where there's a huge, sprawling flea market, where people sell old radios and die-cast Trabants and hats and god knows what else. Adjoining this is a huge field, where I watched the fragrant smoke of a dozen barbecues, and people tossing frisbees, and a man playing the bagpipes, and a crowd of people gathered in anticipation of karaoke.

I found a corner store on the way home. I bought a newspaper, and a bottle of ice-cold Coke to fortify myself against the bright, sticky heat of an early-September afternoon, and I walked until I found an electrical box on which someone had placed the graffito of a grinning, warm face. Then I came home. I made dinner, and listened to David Sedaris. As I write this, I am watching a truly fantastic thunderstorm write itself in gleaming fractals against the purple Berlin night.

I commit this to writing now because I know that there will be grey days. I know that other people are experiencing them right now. I know that I will be one of them, some day, staring at the white wall of my apartment and wondering why a loveless god invented consciousness, and I hope that I can look back on this and realize that this was not a special day. It's just a sunny afternoon; it's just a flea market, just a thunderstorm. There is no day on which these things do not happen somewhere, to someone. Somewhere, somebody is having the same thought — that the world is spectacular, and brilliant, and good — as I am now.

I want to remember that.

Wrapped up in all of this is, I suppose, a manifesto. It's not your manifesto, but the notions are ones I have come to believe, myself:

...That the world is not amazing, but there are amazing things in the world, and you can always, always find them if you try. The sound of rain, the perfect curl of a snail's shell, ringing church bells, jugglers, YouTube videos — they are out there. Always. Always. They're just not always obvious, and that means...

...That happiness means casting a wide net. There's no such thing as serendipity, only openness to discovery. If I had not left my apartment, I would not have seen the man juggling the parts of his bicycle. And if I had not been hot, and sticky, I wouldn't have been able to appreciate the taste of that Coke.

...That the story of fulfillment is the story of passion. Clinical, ironic detachment plays well on 4chan, but it sinks us in the long run. Look at the "Double Rainbow" video again. That guy is getting more amazement, more sheer, raw, atavistic, primal joy out of a simple rainbow than most of us see over the course of a lifetime. The joke is not on him, guys. It's on you. That means you need to throw yourself into your passions, because that's where the dividends pay out. What I'm getting at, really, is...

...That happiness is not always easy. Sometimes you have to work at it. Stasis does not, and cannot, breed happiness — we get used to the familiar, and it ceases to delight us. So we have to range farther afield. It is possible, I suspect, to be happy nearly all the time, to wring enjoyment from every heartbeat of the world. But it requires these other things — openness, passion, genuineness.

...That no one is alone. This was the lesson Sondheim went for in Into the Woods, and fairy tales aside this one is true. We are social creatures. There is nobody so outcast, so pariahed, so untouchable that there's not somebody out there to share a cup of tea with them, an amusing anecdote, a word of advice. It is this trait, which we have inherited from our social animal cousins, that makes us strong, as a species. Even when it doesn't seem like — even when the concept itself appears fantastic and impossible — you are not alone.

If you ever think you are; if you ever believe the world is colorless — without end, inspiration or beauty — then give me a call, and I will answer, and if I can, I will try to remember a lingering September evening when the summer lightning wrote, in stark blue white, the coda for a perfect day...
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