(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.