Thursday, December 12, 2013

Confessing Sadness

(My mother died a few days ago, and I am not yet ready to write about that.  What follows is a post I was working on before the news came that she was failing.)

It's been dark and dreary lately, and my mood has plunged along with the barometer.  You know the feeling: you dislike the whole world, and yourself most of all, but it doesn't matter because death--preceded by a more-or-less protracted deterioration--is where it all ends anyway.

Nausea, spleen, acedia, Weltschmerz, the blues, the dark night of the soul--surely everybody over 40 and not a twit is acquainted with this state.

Every once in a while, there comes winging to me out of the ether a message that seems straight from the hand of divine providence--as when I  clicked on Brain Pickings and saw a review of Jennifer Michael Hecht's Stay, A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It.  (Just to be clear:  there is a world of difference between feeling that life is not worth living and actually considering suicide.  While the former is not foreign to me, the latter is.)

I was reading along when the following quote reached down into my well of despair and yanked me, if not all the way out, at least high enough so I could catch a couple of breaths:

"If you have any energy at all for participating in this world, perhaps live now only for those small kindnesses and consolations you can render. Perhaps seek to help those equally burdened by sadness. Confess your own sadness to those in sorrow. Your ability to console may be profound."

I was immediately taken by the beginning, "If you have any energy at all for participating in this world..."  This was exactly my speed.  This person, I thought, knows exactly where I'm at.

"...perhaps live now only for those small kindnesses and consolations you can render."  Hecht is not talking about big gestures.  She's not asking me to sell all I have and go to Africa to dig village wells.  But small kindnesses and consolations--I can probably manage some of those.

"Perhaps seek to help those equally burdened by sadness."  I love that gentle, tentative "perhaps."

"Confess your own sadness to those in sorrow." What!  Isn't sadness un-American, a sign of weakness and self indulgence?  And isn't it especially bad form to confess sadness in the neon-bright skies of social media?

Studies show that Facebook, with its unspoken norm of posting only what is cool or cute, promotes depression among the peoples of the earth.  And here is Hecht, saying that by showing others our own sadness we may help them feel better.

Schadenfreude, you say?  Not necessarily.  I believe that, when someone whom we think happy and successful confesses his sadness to us, we are reminded that our own sorrow is not a defect in our character or a consequence of the way we have lived our life, but rather a result of the human condition.

"Your ability to console," Hecht concludes, "may be profound."  Or, as St. Francis put it, in seeking not so much to be consoled as to console, we may ourselves find healing.

15 comments :

  1. You seem to have a gift for bringing light out of darkness. I’m so sorry that grief and sorrow have come to you in your time of darkness. It seems as though that would make it harder, because your resilience and emotional resources are already depleted, but I don’t know. I can’t think of a good time for the pain of death. And no matter one’s relationship with one’s mother, it’s such a primary relationship that losing her is especially difficult.

    The dark time of the year, the darkness in your soul, and the darkness of loss have all come upon you at once. I hope that all three will have their season and then lift and pass. And I hope that you will find small points of light to lift you, as stars brighten a winter sky. I wish you peace and quietude, and strength for grieving.

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    1. Thank you, Whaledancer. I've been wondering whether the dark mood that overcame me a few days before my mother took a sudden turn for the worse was some kind of premonition.

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  2. Is weltschmerz essentially world pain, or world weary? Weary would be a good way to describe my autumn. And what IB said. Yes.

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    1. Considering what you do every day, I would say weary applies.

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  3. Thank you for writing, even when you don't feel like it. I was feeling arthritic and low and your post made me feel better. I'm so sorry that your mother passed away.

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    1. Everything passes...I hope the sun comes out for you soon.

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  4. I used to suffer from Weltschmertz and am glad I am over it now. You suffer from 'ordinary' schmertz about your mother now and I can empathize with you about that having lost mine. It's a great loss that takes some time to get over. Please accept my condolences. xox

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  5. A few days ago (Dec.11), i felt sad and low and could not fathom why - until I remembered it was the anniversary of my father's death. Although it's been over thirty years since he died, I still miss him and remember his affect on my life. Losing a parent always brings grief that lingers.

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  6. Your father, like mine, must have died fairly young, and that kind of loss leaves an especially big hole.

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  7. I wrote a reply here a few days ago, but it must not have taken. Your post comforts me because I feel this way sometimes and thought it was just me.

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  8. Thanks for persevering, Dona.
    Cheerfulness is such a norm in our culture that it puts an extra weight on us when we deviate from it.

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  9. (From HCB) I'd like to share this quote: "If I had not read somewhere that a man may not voluntarily part with his life so long as a good deed remains for him to perform, I should long ago have been no more." (Original source--Ludwig van Beethoven, "Letters," ed. Emily Anderson, l961; as quoted in the book "Free Play" by Stephen Nachmanovitch, 1990).

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    1. Amazing--and Beethoven left some "good deeds" indeed!

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