Gnomicon 238

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Introduction to Gnomica.

Gnomicon  238
Saturday 5 January 2013
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They say when you are missing someone that they are probably feeling the
same, but I don’t think it’s possible for you to miss me as
much as I’m missing you right now.
Edna St. Vincent Millay (22 Feb 1892 – 19 Oct 1950)

These words from this American lyric poet who won the Pulitzer Prize in literature (1923) push out ripples that could overwhelm me – but, rather, sadden me.  It makes me ask myself what sadness is.  Is there an evolutionary reason for sadness?  Why does one become sad?

It is important for me in asking these questions to make clear in my own heart and mind that sadness is not the same thing as depression, by no means the same thing, perhaps not even in the same family.  I’m sure a psychologist or psychiatrist would have different understandings in the matter, but for me depression derives from interior processes, sadness, from exterior ones.  The latter is reactive to events outside oneself, the former, consequent on chaos within.   If that makes any sense.  Thus, I believe you can be sad without being depressed;  if you can be depressed without being sad is another matter, confronting which I leave to another time.  But no doubt depression is a kind of sadness that for whatever reasons one is finally incapable of dealing with and accepting as a natural process to be made a permanent part of oneself.

Millay wrote a poem that begins, “Am I kin to sorrow”, and in another she speaks of “sorrow like a ceaseless rain” that “beats upon my heart,” and those are believable, reasonably accurate enough reflections in language of how I think one can experience sadness, even if ‘sorrow’ is a more intense, more distressing form of emotional disarray than sadness.

Rain is a force of nature, sometimes ruinous and utterly destructive, but more often nurturing, nourishing, cleansing, and in its ceaseless coming is “Neither loud nor soft”.  You think of it as ‘beating on the roof’, and from there it is a short hop to “beats upon my heart.”  Grief may break one’s heart, but sadness does not.  Nor sorrow.  In thinking of the emotions, there is – as in so many things—a continuum from a negative extreme to a positive one, and this spectrum is usually reflected in the tokens defining the various members of the given semantic (and emotional) domain.  For example, in the case of sadness or sorrow one may think of them as housed with a domain of the emotions that runs on a sliding scale so to speak from something like ‘despair’ (etymologically, ‘without hope’) to ‘ecstasy’ (etymologically, ‘standing outside, beyond [oneself with happiness]’).

Why is one person able to deal with, to handle sadness, and another is not?  I think it’s a reasonable question for me to ask myself but not a very useful one, and in any ultimate sense I don’t think there is a satisfactory answer.  Why does the same couple have one daughter with blond hair and another with dark hair?

So, going back to the beginning:  why does one become sad?  Probably for some of the same reasons one cries at times, because one’s emotions need to breathe.  Like crying, it’s a kind of release – releasing hurt and relieving loss.  But sadness is elegiac, is dry tears.

Rain, finally, may well be ceaseless while it beats upon the heart, and even if it will return it does let up to let the sun in.

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