What are you? Who are you? These are questions I would rather ask than “What do you do?” at cocktail parties.

Mind you, I can count on one hand the number of cocktail parties I have been to. Sad, sordid affairs, they were. Little groups bunched together trying to make conversation before the drink or boredom renders them inarticulate, belligerent or both.

I am a musician. I am a father. And I am a son. I am a husband, twice. I consider myself to have had the privilege of partaking of this province’s mental health facilities.

On my business card I describe myself as a singer songwriter, among other things, and a darkside navigator.

That last one always raises eyebrows and questions. Without fail.

“What is that?”

Let me sing you the song of my people.

The description does what I want it to do: makes people ask that question so I can answer it like this:

I am a darkside navigator, because, at least for my part of the world, I have been sailing the deep, grey, featureless waters of depression, melancholy, and anxiety for a very long time. Some of it medicated, most of it without.

I have an idea where the shoals are. I narrowly miss the rocks and the breakers that can send me to an unreachable bottom. I have been in the flat waters of windless weeks and the motor out of gas. I have been a resident of the Slough of Despond.

This familiarity has given me a paradoxical gift. I have learned to name names, the markers, the landmarks, the lighthouses. I can see the way the wind flows over the water, I can sometimes use the way the currents take my vessel and navigate it out of dangerous places. I always see other sailors on these waters. We wave and signal. Sometimes we are close enough to speak.

“Where are you from?”

“Where are you going?”

“Do you have enough to eat and drink to make the voyage?”

I know what it is like to feel terribly alone when I awake in the morning and lie staring at the way the bedsheet folds in front of my eyes and wonder if I should get up at all today.

I cannot drift. That is why I navigate. If I drift I will sink. I have to navigate, to use what is in front of me and inside me to get me to wherever today’s destination is. It could be work. It could be the guitar I am using to write or play a song. It could be with friends I trust with nothing else but my heart. It could be dinner tonight with my bride.

It could be getting my feet on the bedroom floor and getting dressed.

This is not an exercise in positive thinking. Being positive is less of a solution than a slow-acting poison of denial.

So when people ask, “What is a darkside navigator?” I tell them.

It’s who I am.

It’s the beginning of a conversation.

We called it the lurgie, from a hilariously wacky British radio comedy called the “Goon Show”. (link goes to their last show on BBC)

It was a cold, really. Or any kind of upper respiratory viral nastiness that made me sick enough to be up in the wee hours of the morning singing the song of its people.

That and a week of hard physical and mental labour at a job that does not provide sick days because of a provincial fiat removing that particular requirement from employers in the guise of “efficiencies”, I was essentially working sick because I could not afford to take the time off to get better.

Which meant that the weekend of Thanksgiving and my Queen Schweetie’s birthday had me a trainwreck of body and mood.

Nevertheless, I did put out the news of my discomfort on the electrons of social media, and my lovely friends offered many remedies.

I list them below in no particular order or efficacy:

A juice glass of Napoleon Brandy just before bed. Drink it like water. (I liked this one);

Vicks Vaporub® on the soles of my feet and socks over them, again just before retiring. (This brings back memories of the Vicks on my chest and throat and under the nose as a child);

Gargling warm salt water. (this one, too);

A Chinese cough syrup that is sweet enough to double as pancake syrup;

Oil of Oregano. (I can attest that this is a good thing. The taste is bloody awful – think of a distillation into a dropper of every spaghetti dinner with tomato sauce you’ve ever had, into the back of your throat. But it really, really works!);

Honey and fresh ginger tea. Laced with cayenne and diced raw onion. (This is good, too. I like to slice fresh turmeric and ground black pepper into the mix);

Hot bath with a cup of tea with rum. Or cup of rum with tea. (I don’t have a bath tub. Drinking tea and/or rum in the shower doesn’t seem to do it for me);

Natural honey and cinnamon (Always good for what ails you).

The kindness of friends knows no bounds. My thanks to you – you know who you are.

As of this writing I am feeling a bit better. The night cough has lessened and doesn’t sound as if I’m horking a lung out on the pillow.

And the brandy tasted good. I bought a Bowmore single malt for reinforcement.

I believe the Lurgie is leaving the building

And here’s the thing.

I finished a gig at the Haliburton Highlands brewery about a month ago. It’s in an area of the province where I served as a United Church Minister for five years back in 1987 – 1992.

It was the place that when scarce years after I had been ordained I started to doubt my calling to the ministry.

There were friends I had made outside the church, because, at the time, it was not a good idea to make too many within the walls of the sanctuary.

The long and short of it was some ten years after I moved on from that place, the initial doubts about my calling turned into a full-fledged crisis of faith and sanity. I became seriously mentally unfit to do the work that hitherto I thought I had been called to. I quit the church and the Christian faith.

More than a decade and a half later I return as someone different, but the same.

Besh, an old friend of mine, had written in a post commenting on a picture of me in dog-collared finery, staring out at the camera, glasses slightly askew, a deer in the headlights of Jesus.

This is what he said:

“Thank you for your service, Ed.”

That was it.

Besh had never been a member of my congregation, indeed never been in any area where I had served.

Somehow he understood on a level far deeper than what I was able to perceive at the time, that what I had done in the years as minister was serve in a strange way comparable to what he had done in the Armed Forces.

And he identified with that action in such a way so as to thank me for that service.

We met a few weeks later for breakfast in the town where I live. When I mentioned this to him, he pointed out, “You never know how many hundreds or even thousands of people you touched and changed because of your time in that capacity.”

Indeed I don’t. People shared with me their grief, celebration, perplexity, doubt, joy, frustration, accomplishment, courage, and vulnerability. I listened and did what I could. And I tried to interpret the teachings of a first-century Palestinian rabbi to a twentieth-century mind. Sometimes I was clear. Most times I was as confused as the rest of us human beings.

And now, no longer in that arena, I play in another one. Sometimes clear, most times still confused.

Still amazed, humbled, and grateful.