A Crowd of Sorrows
Friends! Comrades of the Eternal Gloom!
This week I’ve been mopey—“Off Balance” if we’re going to describe our emotions with Baldur’s Gate 3 status descriptions—and it’s been rough-going for a few reasons but we’re going to push through it all, screaming as we go, pretending that everything is okay together.
But, I have to admit, things aren’t okay.
Usually when I feel this way it lasts a few hours, at most. I eventually find something to latch onto that pulls me out of myself; a great book or movie, or, more often than not, Autolux. Always and forever, Autolux.
Either way, I often rush through these feelings as quickly as possible since they don’t feel useful or kind and so I end up pushing all the buttons and levers to kickstart my engines again. If I make myself extremely busy looking at fonts or playing the latest video game then there isn’t enough time to sit through all this wasted sadness or grief or whatever else it might be.
It’s strange that no-one teaches you how to be sad. There’s no guide, there’s no manual or wiki that teaches you how to cope with sad things, with grief or even just a hard day at work, and everyone is left to deal with it by themselves.
I was about to hang up the phone with my brother earlier this week—we have these stretched-out, prolonged goodbyes with each other as we always have one final bit of drama to talk about—and as I pulled the phone away I mumbled something along the lines of “don’t tell your kid that I called” since I knew my nephew, Alex, would get grumpy if he didn’t get a chance to say hi and I wanted to protect him from that a little bit.
“No!” my brother shouted. “I’ll tell Alex that you called.”
And then, dear reader, the kicker that floored me:
“He needs to learn how to be sad.”
After a beat I realized how wonderful this is, the idea that you have to prepare to be disappointed in life. You have to learn how to grapple with sadness but not in a cynical, pessimistic way. You have to steel yourself against failed relationships, failed jobs, failure of all kinds. There’s an ounce of bravery in that, I think.
But how loving is it for your parents to strengthen you against those disappointments in advance? To see those pinpricks of sadness rushing towards your kid and not shield them, but embrace them?
I’m reminded here of a poem by Rumi called The Guest House:
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
I can’t think of much advice from the 13th century that I take to heart but all this feels right to me. “Don’t be sad!” is a troubled, childish way to tackle grief and yet Rumi and my brother—who I’ve lovingly called Crick since I was two years old—show us an alternative here: how to welcome that crowd of sorrows without being carried away by them.
There’s a kindness here that I find difficult to articulate, but it’s there all the same.
Now let me go mope,