July 2024
Leaves from My Notebook
Elaine Greensmith Jordan


After a long, quiet sit in his lawn chair, Larry Walters hooked forty-five helium balloons to that old chair and took off, with a CB radio, a six-pack of beer, some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and a BB gun to pop the balloons as necessary. Instead of going just a couple of hundred feet over his neighborhood, he shot up 11,000 feet, right through the approach corridor of the Los Angeles airport. When asked why he did it, he said, “You can’t just sit there.” When asked if he was scared, he answered, “Wonderfully so.” When asked if he would do it again, he said, “Nope.”

Now there’s a cure for depression that seemed to work.

I’ve been thinking about our need to relieve despair now that my age seems to bring on such feelings. For Judith Viorst, our melancholy begins with change and aging, and in her book Necessary Losses she dives into the meaning of loss in that process. She begins,

This morning I was seventeen,

I’ve barely begun the beguine and it’s

Good-night ladies


Why do I seem to remember Pearl Harbor?

Surely I must be too young . . .

Why can’t I take barefoot walks in the park

Without giving my kidneys a chill?

Her thoughtful and amusing account of aging reminds us that we’re not just older, we’re faced with innumerable serious losses — and I think that’s part of the reason for depression.

Churchill called despair the ‘black dog,’ a metaphor for an inescapable, hunted feeling. William Styron’s study of the agony of his clinical depression is called Darkness Visible, a perfect title. (He was eventually treated with antidepressants.) I think black and darkness are fitting descriptions, but for me, absence defines the suffering of depression — a sense that happiness and joy are gone. We haven’t been promised a rose garden, as the song goes, but when we meet the black dog it shocks our spirit. We expected those roses and found bad health, dreadful world events, and an empty chair.

The process of emerging from the dark storm clouds is overwhelming. So we search for a way to avoid our depression. One solution is buying a new car, a friend told me. He knew of a guy who got contact lenses, shaved his chest, put on a gold chain, and bought a Porsche. That seems as crazy to me as ascending into the clouds in a lawn chair.

Some have turned to the solace of nature, or to music, or they’ve moved away from the familiar to a new place, hoping that change is the answer, like Larry Walters and his adventure into the clouds. The Psalmists called out to God for help when overcome by despair. Religious answers seem to work for many. Instead, I look for words that tell me what I need to hear, that the suffering can be understood and named, or that it will subside. I want to read or hear words that explain, define and reveal what it means to be lost in sadness, and I hope for some answers, or understanding. Words, my balloons, matter.

I’ve turned to poetry and prayers to find solace and the energy to accept what I must, and I collect the words in a notebook. (That’s what we old English teachers do.) Several of my balloons, I’ve noticed, have to do with accepting death.

In the dark of the moon

In flying snow

In the dead of winter

War spreading

Families dying

The world in danger

I walk the rocky hillside

Sowing clover. — Wendell Berry

O Lord, protect me all the day long

Until the shadows lengthen, the evening comes

And the busy world is hushed . . . — An Anglican prayer

In the midst of winter I finally learned there was

in me an invincible summer. — Albert Camus

Writing makes sorrow endurable, evil intelligible,

justice discernible, and love possible. — Roger Rosenblatt

I am of a nature to grow old

There’s no way to escape growing old.

I am of a nature to have ill health

There is no way to escape ill health.

I am of a nature to die

There is no way to escape death. — Buddhist scripture

When it’s over, I want to say all my life

I was a bride married to amazement.

I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder if I have

made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened, or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world. — Mary Oliver

As to Larry and his balloons, I read his story in All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulgum. I choose to believe it’s true.

Elaine Jordan, author of Mrs. Ogg Played the Harp, is a local editor who’s lived in Prescott for thirty years.