11 July

Essay. “See, I Am A Man Of Failure.” Beginning Again.

by Jon Katz
Man Of Failure

Dear Ed (not Ed Gulley), thank for your message to me this morning. It was beautiful and wrenching at the same time.  I thank you for reaching out to thank me for my work, which you kindly say has given you pleasure and hope.

Today, I hope to give you more hope.

You were writing in response to an essay I wrote yesterday, it was called “Let Us Begin Again,” and it was inspired by St. Francis of Assisi and his writings, and by his statement at the end of his life to the Friars:  “Let us begin again,  for up to now, we have done nothing.”

You wrote:

See, I am a man of failure. I have  accomplished nothing and struggled for 40 years from Major Depressive Disorder. Many days, I have asked God to take my life as I am tired. Tired of the lack of humanity in this country, of compassion, of service to your fellow human. The leader of this country has worn me down with the constant drivel, of hate, hate, hate.”

But, he wrote, “I read your post today about St. Francis and realized that I need to get outside of this constant dark mental oppression because I too  have done nothing.  Your article hit me dead on. And if gave me spark of hope in a dark world. And  really, hope is all I have left. Without it, there is a large void...”

Ed, thank you, your letter touched me deeply for several reasons.

One is  because you grasped across time and space and pain the true message of St. Francis’s life and beliefs, and two, because you so beautifully and intuitively captured his idea of the reconstruction of life, something open to all of us, whatever our faith.

This  what St. Francis was all about, and how overjoyed he would have been to see this letter and to know that he touched a soul far across the continuum of time and saw his pain and perhaps saved him. I’m not a joiner, if I were a Christian, I would probably be angry and  frustrated today, I am not a Christian, but powerfully drawn to the moral and compassionate messages fo the founders of the faith.

They would perhaps not be happy with what has been done to their religion today, and in our country.

I have to be  honest, I am just the messenger here, Ed, you are generous, but the message was all about St. Francis, perhaps the most beloved priest in the history of Christianity

I love that  you read his message so perfectly.

He was not denigrating himself (or you) when he said he had done nothing, he was simply giving birth and rebirth to himself and showing us what he called reconstruction, the building of a new life and the path to a meaningful life.

He  was re-committing himself to a good life, again, and again, and again.

St. Francis lived  a life of service and it sounds like  you are choosing the same path. If this happened because of my blog and anything I wrote her, i am overjoyed to. This morning, my wife and I sat in the car and I read your message to her and she just shook her head and said, “that is so wonderful.” And it is.

For those of you who don’t know, Major Depressive Disorder is a very painful and difficult kind of mental illness. It is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest in life. It affects how one thinks, feels and  behaves and can lead to a wide variety of emotional and physical difficulties. People who suffer  from MDD may have trouble carrying out day-to-day activities, and sometimes one may feel as if life is not worth living.

Ed, you are a brave and worthy man, if there is a God, and he was listening to you, I doubt he would want to take you away. The God I would love to believe in would blow a lot of warmth and courage into your soul, and send you out on your journey. He would fill your cup with hope.

As is happens, I have a close friend with this disorder, and she has often thought of taking her own life. She has  learned to live with this disorder by committing herself to a life of service, and by writing and painting every day of her life. This has grounded her, and  taught her how to live in a positive way. She no longer thinks of killing herself.

Ed, my wish for you is that find the reconstruction – the rebirth –  that Francis wrote about so often. He believed in  worshipping Lady Poverty, that is he was devoted to nothing but service, never money or power. His happiness came, in a way, from his very low view of himself, he called it “lowliness.”

He wrote that there was power in being a “somebody,” but that there was great truth and meaning in being a nobody, in letting go of a life filled with things other people told him he ought to have, including conventional ideas about happiness and security.

Francis’s very radical idea was to choose weakness instead of strength, vulnerability instead of righteousness, truth instead of practicality, honesty instead of influence. He stood in quite  remarkable opposition to Westernized versions of the gospel and to the wealth and surely, he would be horrified at the power of the wealth-and-success oriented electronic Church of today.

We cannot change the world, wrote Francis, except  as we have changed ourselves.

We can only give who we are and what we are.

We can only offer to others what we have been given.

We can’t just pray, we must be the prayer.

We can’t only have questions, we must be the answers.

He had enormous differences with his Church, but he never argued with the Church or railed against it, his response to arrogance and corruption was to do good, better.

He was a gentle prophet, not a warrior. His passion was to care for the poor, to be of service.

His witness has been to call and challenge people of good heart and intention for more than eight centuries, and here, Ed, he seems to have reached out and touched you. He offered nothing but the call to life.

I hope that you choose to walk on that kind of path, in your own way and time. I am not looking to be a priest or a monk, but his message inspires and encourages me, he lived in much harder times than ours, and believed that doing good was far superior than arguing about what good was.

I sense that this would fit you from your letter. You and I are different in many ways, I suspect, and similar in others. We have been broken, and  we have chosen to begin again.

Up to now, we have done nothing.

I wish  you great luck and hope you keep me informed. We have begun a dialogue, you and I, and I, for one, I am morally bound to keep it going. And I want to know how your story turns out.

What a miracle to give rebirth to ourselves, to do good, better. Again and again.

Peace and compassion to you, Ed, on your hero journey. I am hopeful of hearing from you down the road.


  1. It took me forever to realize this was not Ed Gulley! I was thinking running a dairy farm with major depressive disorder could not be easy!

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