People carry in their hearts an inconsolable longing for something and they are never quite sure what it is.
Most people’s lives go on as if they have no choice because they have no choice. Choice is the province of the privileged and daring. Most of us are neither. We have jobs, families, fears and responsibilities. We look forward to small diversions – holidays, the weekend, a rare stroke of good fortune – before we step back on the treadmill and the days march on to their inevitable destination.
People experience an ambiguous well-being in the quotidian routine of the half-lived life, but still suffer an inconsolable longing. This is not nostalgia so much as a misplaced belief that with one more turn in the mirror maze they will stumble upon some secret or answer or deeper meaning.
The ominous phrase ‘an inconsolable longing’ is an imperfect translation of the German word sehnsucht. It was first used by the writer C.S. Lewis (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) to describe that aching sense of waiting and dissatisfaction that regularly clouds our thoughts; that feeling that in the deepest depths of existence all we will find is a void.
Existentialists believe there is no purpose to life other than pleasure, but pleasure drifts like cigarette smoke into melancholy and ennui. A glass of absinthe and you are living the life. Drink a bottle and you’re dead.
Rhythms of an Inconsolable Longing
An experiment at Cambridge University showed that when a number of metronomes were placed on a stage and set off at different times, they soon began to beat together. They are not individuals, but herd creatures driven by the rhythms and thoughts of those around them.
To break the metronome quandary and dance to the rhythms of your own inner music, the time comes when you must cut the cords of the safety net and venture on to the high wire. We have more fear of the unknown than the reality of lived experience, our balancing act over the abyss.
We may try and find solace in religion, but if there is an Old Man in the Sky, he cannot be relied on to mitigate war, plague, flood and famine. Conspiracy theorists believe there is a cabal of paederasts in league with the Illuminati secretly directing the White House. That’s compelling, a diversion, a movie pitch. But nonsense. We have a need for kings, a wise man, a great leader, but kings and leaders are seldom wise and lead to tyranny.
On dark nights with the moon in its first quarter, we discover that we are on our own and try to put meaning into the void by accumulation – wealth, power, achievement, the gathering of things we don’t need and weigh us down like uneven ballast in a floundering ship.
What is the answer?
There is no answer. Don’t trust politicians with promises to build bridges where there are no rivers. Fill your glass and read for pleasure. As innocence fades or awakens, we must face the reality of the mirror’s reflection and learn to live with an inconsolable longing.
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