Leaving My Sadness Behind

I’m so used to being in tune with virtually everything Jonathon says that I was a little taken aback when I read, “I've known for a long time that the legacy of those years is that I equate authenticity with sadness” in reply to a comment I made on his blog entry discussing Jackson Browne.

Somehow that statement haunted me this morning as I sucked up the last of this year's leaves. At first I wondered if perhaps I didn’t agree with him. Certainly much of what I’ve written about in my blog has focused on “sadness.” My favorite literature, too, often seems centered on sadness. If I am to believe all the negative reactions I’ve gotten when I recommend Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure as my favorite book, it is, indeed, a sad, depressing novel. Many of my favorite poets also focus on the inevitable sadness that accompanies life. Blues music is undoubtedly my favorite music, and what’s sadder than “the blues?”

Still, I resisted the notion that authenticity must be identified with sadness. Sadness is authentic, no doubt about that. At times, it’s what we most remember about relationships and events in our lives. My first love ended with a “dear Loren” letter as I was about to leave for Vietnam, Vietnam was anything but happy, and admittedly my first marriage is best symbolized by Browne’s “Shape of a Heart.” Nor can I deny that these are all pivotal events in my life.

However, I still don’t “equate authenticity with sadness.” Perhaps I might subscribe to a dialectical view of life, where joy and sadness seem to balance each other out, where both are “authentic” experiences. It often seems that sadness is the direct result of a corresponding happiness. For instance, the end of my “first true love” was sad precisely because the beginning had seemed so joyous. Everything had seemed so “alive” with Judy that it suddenly seemed dead without her. I’m not convinced, though, that the ending negates the beginning. The beginning joy is just as real, just as authentic, as the final sorrow.

Of course, I followed that sad moment up with a jaunt to Vietnam, so my life seemed really sad for quite awhile, particularly since I became a caseworker after leaving the army. Ironically, it was the joy of my marriage that ended this miserable interlude and gave me new hope in life. The birth of my two children seemed to confirm that optimistic view. For a while, everything, even the end of the Cold War, seemed to offer a rosy outlook on life.

Kids who were a pain-in-the-ass in school often seem certain I will remember them vividly, but, in reality, memories of them have long since faded. Instead, I remember the kids I loved teaching, the kids that were full of life and made sharing their life a joy.

But what really convinces me of the authenticity of happiness is that I seem most alive on those days when I am doing the things I most love. I often judge my summers by how many days I spend in the mountains, and I can’t remember a bad day while hiking in the mountain. I hardly remember the days when I sit around and accomplish nothing, but I vividly remember the joyful moments I spend with my kids or with my grandson Gavin. The “authentic” days are those you remember vividly, not those you have forgotten.

13 thoughts on “Leaving My Sadness Behind

  1. Loren, I also wrote this in response to a comment Steve Himmer wrote about my equating authenticity with sadness. I thought it might be useful to include it here too:

    I’m talking about a sadness associated with the knowledge that happiness is fleeting, that nothing lasts. What the Japanese call “mono no aware” — an intense, nostalgic sadness, connected with autumn and the vanishing away of the world. It’s important to note, however, that there is — for me anyway — no relation between this kind of sadness and feeling depressed. Rather it’s a sadness that deepens one’s appreciation of the ephemeral beauty of the everyday world.

  2. I’m glad to hear that, Jonathon. Since you linked it with all those people who died in that short time, I certainly wouldn’t have understood it in this sense.

    Strangely enough, this sounds very similar to the kind of sadness that I’m dealing with in Archibald MacLeish’s Collected Poems, a feeling of “fall” overlaid with a sense of Carpe Diem.

    I suppose my vague reference to a dialectal view of life would be a similar idea. I’ll have to try to read something on “mono no aware.”

  3. When Jonathon first wrote about mono no aware (briefly), it reminded me of the beauty of the classic, and very rare, antique roses. These roses can live hundreds of years, but only bloom for a incredibly short period of time. When they do, they appear as these wonderfully intricate groupings of petals in different, soft colors, accompanied by a bewilderingly beautiful smell. Briefly. Then just as quickly, they drop their petals, returning to dormancy of ugly, brown throny stick like bushes.

    I probably have mono no aware all wrong, but that’s what it reminded me of.

  4. No, I believe you have it right Shelley. Mono no aware means sensitivity to things. mono=things aware=moved or touched through experience. So if you are present when that rose has bloomed and you experience it and are moved by that experience to understand your connection to it and the surrounding world that is mono no aware as I understand it.

  5. The literal translation of “mono no aware” is, as DD points out, “a deep feeling over things.” The phrase was coined by the 19th century literary critic, Motoori Norinaga, to distinguish “aware” (an aesthetic ideal that permeates all Heian literature) from everyday “aware” (pathos or grief).

    However, “things” are not limited to tangible objects because Motoori used the word “mono” to universalize the meaning of “aware,” so that “mono no aware” suggests a rarified feeling that only the most sensitive and cultivated person could experience.

    Heian “aware” comprised three components: beauty, sadness, and ephemerality. Motoori added the sensitivity needed for full appreciation.

    Using Shelley’s example of the roses as an example of “mono no aware,” the roses are beautiful not just because of their physical perfection but also because of the sadness that springs from the transitory nature of that beauty and, equally importantly, the presence of a human observer with the sensitivity to appreciate the beauty and feel the sadness while accepting the inevitablility of impermanence.

  6. Good definitions. If anyone of you can, try to download or get a hold of a song by Momus called “The Sadness of Things.” “Mono no aware” is the refrain he uses. The lyrics are wonderfully cogent for the concept. Beautiful song, too.

    I’m also reminded of a line by Morrissey in his song “Disappointed”: “Young girl, one day you will be old, but the thing is I love you now!”

    This awareness of the ephemeral can truly bring you down. My girlfriend and I will never have kids, but we have two cats. They are gorgeous, loving animals and when I’m smiling at them, I sometimes have to stop myself from considering the painful reality that they will one day be old, decrepit, and will die. I think that’s a fair example of mono no aware.

  7. i just stumbled across this site and am moved by the expressions of palpable life. i work with people who are “actively dying,” i.e., they are within 72 hours of their last breath. mono no aware is a cathartic expression for my work.

  8. I agree with your last paragraph Loren. Yes sadness is authentic as is rage and a host of other emotions that oft rule people’s lives. If you are trapped in one emotion as your dominant view of life then it will seem the most authentic, trite nut true. I never feel more alive than those oh too brief moments when some combination of state-of-mind, light, surroundings and season combine to suffuse me with a feeling of being completely in tune with the universe – where self both dissappears and at the same time expands to include all. That is a very authentic feeling. Your last sentence sums it up well “The “authentic” days are those you remember vividly, not those you have forgotten.

What do you think?