I never saw much of a problem with being sad.
Maybe it’s because I grew up as a fan of Frank Sinatra’s “In The Wee Small Hours”, later latching on to other morose masterpieces such as The Cure’s “Disintegration”, Elvis Costello’s “North” (the first half of which is among the dourest, most gorgeously despondent jazz music ever recorded) and, most recently, Bon Iver’s “For Emma Forever Ago”. These are deeply personal albums that describe an almost crippling loneliness and sorrow, and I’ve never had a problem with embracing that part of the emotional palette. I just never saw it as a bad thing. Sure, it’s an unpleasant feeling– but I recognized from a pretty early age that the sinking stir of complete isolation, that overwhelming need to connect, has a very clear purpose. It’s something that I’ve grown to relish and find some comfort in.
That’s not to say that I’m a miserable mope-about. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m a gregarious, outgoing, generally social guy. I go to parties to meet people. Shit, any time I find out there’s someone I even remotely know flying in to Buenos Aires, I’m the first one to contact them and offer to show them around the city. But the reason I’m able to do that and not feel like a gigantic phony is, I think, because of the balance I’ve been able to achieve by identifying the true purpose of loneliness. And that “purpose” is something I’ve been aware of for a while but hadn’t been able to really vocalize until a recent web forum discussion (of course, internet commenters would be the utmost authority on the topic of loneliness).
See, I subscribe to the theory that “loneliness” isn’t a disease that comes over you (of course, barring clinical depression). I believe loneliness is humanity’s unaltered state. Loneliness is stasis.
It’s inherent to the human condition. It’s what we’re born into and subsequently spend our lives running from. It’s stillness, in that regard– the standard we keep slinking back to. It’s a good thing. It focuses and drives us– it helps us see the enormity of a shared moment, of friendship and family and support. It’s the great unifier, in the sense that we’re in a lifelong desperate struggle to push ourselves– and therefore each other– out of it. It’s the seed of the human need to gather, to assemble, to converse. It’s essential to who we are as feeling, thinking individuals, and it gives meaning to what we cherish every day: a lover’s embrace, the voice of a friend, a song that touches or excites you, a film that moves you to tears. These things mean what they do, and as much as they do, because they effectively pry us from what is our natural state. Loneliness reminds us of what we need, who we need and why– and it’s one of the most powerful and effective driving forces pushing us towards the light.
Suddenly, It starts to make a whole lot more sense when you approach it as a permanent condition that serves an actual evolutionary purpose and gives meaning to the spaces-between-our-loneliness. It’s something to cherish and attempt to take full advantage of. “Without the bitter, baby, the sweet ain’t as sweet.”
And now, a song.