Ameneurosis: The half forlorn, half escapist ache of a train whistle howling in the distance at night. ~John Koenig, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows
Sometimes, very late at night, when the wind blows just right, I will hear a steam-engine whistle as a train crosses the tracks on Flanagan Station Road. To create that sound, the conductor pulls a cord to open a valve, shooting steam across a ring-shaped gap. As the air is forced across the gap, a mournful wail carries across the miles between my heart and the train. The sound always sends me into a melancholy state, asking me to reflect on the gaps in my own life. I never knew exactly how to describe the feeling that washes over me when I hear that sorrowful wail and love that I now have a word to describe it.
I am fairly sensitive by nature, especially at night and during the winter. Many people think that sadness is a trait to be avoided at all costs.
I think sadness is a superpower.
I’m not talking about depression, that chemically-induced state of hopelessness. Depressed people get stuck in that mental arena, can often become mired in a chronic, defeatist mindset. It all becomes too much; they struggle to see the point of any of it.
Sadness helps us see exactly the point. Without an appropriate amount of sadness, life becomes superficial, an existence constantly being run through a filter, amusing and nice to look at, but completely lacking in depth and breadth. Why do so many see sadness as an affliction instead of a birthright? When we lose the ability to be fully sad, we lose our connection to our humanity. Sadness is the gateway to compassion and curiosity, the double doors to a life of real meaning.
The word sadness arises from the Latin word satis, meaning enough, and the Old English word sæd, meaning sated. To be sorrowful originally meant to be full. Full of thoughts. Of feelings. Of life.
In the last few weeks, I’ve cried numerous times. I cried reading Noah Hawley’s haunting book Anthem. I cried as I watched the snow fall, blanketing the drab in a glorious white robe. I cried listening to Taylor Swift’s album Evermore. I cried – ok, bawled – remembering the opening scene from Pixar’s Up. I cried while in child’s pose, while lying in bed worrying about my daughter, because I was angry and frustrated with my husband. I cried over an especially heartwarming video of a soldier being reunited with this dog. I cried listening to that train whistle. I cry because life is brutal and beautiful and baffling. Tears contain oil, mucus, water, salt, stress hormones, and natural painkillers. A good cry is a psychic reboot, washing away whatever is preventing us from seeing the world clearly.
Sadness isn’t a problem to be fixed. Sadness is how we know we’re paying attention. We can then channel that fullness into creative expression. And it’s in the creating that we can move on, like that train and it’s melancholy voice.