The Bishop, the Mistress, the Scribe, and the General

Church yesterday was full of surprises. The Bishop of Gloucester made a guest appearance in the tiny, ancient church hosting the service for our benefice. This is my second bishop sighting in as many months, a good track record considering my spotty history of church attendance in the last twenty years.

Stevie Winwood, the worst kept celebrity secret in this corner of the Cotswolds, was also there. He was sitting right next to the dreary postmistress who had been at our very table the night before at the wine tasting fundraiser. Last night her complaints were drowned in a tide of Beaujolais. Church also seemed a safe place to sit beside her, hymns and the etiquette of silence a safe harbour from her litany of woe.

The bishop preached a sermon on the economic crisis, surprising me with his liberal touches. He warned against jumping to the conclusion that the meltdown was a punishment from God for capitalist greed, citing parallels with the rush to condemn homosexuality at the onset of the AIDS crisis in the eighties. He went on to talk about using this as an opportunity to revert to a simpler, greener way of life — a splendid eco-warrior in his kelly green robe and golden pope hat.

Most Sundays a good sing song in church is enough to power husband through the day. But even today’s star-studded version wasn’t enough to hold back a plunge into depression. I’d almost forgotten about it over the past few months, buried as it was underneath the manic efforts in his new job. Of course I knew the early mornings and late nights and the fact that the only conversations that seemed to hold his attention were work related was less than healthy. This was just the latest version of a lid on the boiling pot even if, as far as coping mechanisms go, it was much preferable to watching husband spend four hour stretches on the couch watching repeats of property shows.

This is how the dynamic of depression works in our relationship. There’s a good patch of days or weeks or even months, fuelled by meds or work success or some other stroke of luck. Things are so “normal” that when a depression does set in – and it always does – I feel shocked. It’s as if an old lover of husband’s has showed up at the door and asked me, straight-faced, to come in for a shag with him. How dare she come back after all this time? And yet I know I have to let her in, and she’ll stay as long as she likes. My efforts to expel her with logic and reason and breaking down problems into manageable chunks just leave me feeling exasperated. All the while the mistress waits patiently on the couch for me to exhaust myself and stomp out of the room.

Yesterday’s mistress brought along the same old baggage, conflating every issue related to my new job offer with husband’s entire human history of regret and resentment. Gone was his encouragement and infectious enthusiasm that prompted me to look for a job in the country to start. In its place was a whole raft of unattractive insecurities that, in their essence, amounted to a concern over who was going to take care of him if I was spending all my time in the country. Next time perhaps the mistress could be polite enough not to show up in the middle of a life changing decision, although she’s never been known for tact.

By the time I walked into the Everyman Theatre to hear Julian Fellowes speak in the evening, I was primed for some words of wisdom, some advice, a sign from God – anything really that would help me decide whether or not to take this job. It was the final day of The Cheltenham Literature Festival, and Mr. Fellowes, director (of Gosford Park), writer (of the fine Snobs) and actor, did oblige.

“When life opens a door you have to go through it, don’t you,” he responded at one point to a question from the interviewer.

That was it. A perfect if cliched summary of what I had to do. This job was on the table and I had to take it.

But wait, what is Mr. Fellowes talking about now? Something about that sick feeling when as an actor you find yourself cast in a role to which you can offer nothing, cast through some happenstance of the right actor just not being available. Has Mr. Fellowes also been wondering why I’ve been made a generous offer to do a job I’ve never really done before after only one in-person meeting?

Useless old thesp. Useless husband. I am on my own with this decision.

Finally and thankfully, General Powell is not suffering from my crisis in decision making. As speculated in the weekend papers, news came at the end of the day that he’s endorsed Obama. On the matter of Palin he maintained his characteristic reserve, stating simply that she is not ready to be president. Ms. Palin pushes so many people’s buttons, including my own, that such understatement has been rare in the public discourse about her. And for that General Powell was all the more effective.

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