Life, Meaning, and Melancholy

Life, Meaning, and Melancholy

While camping with my daughter this week, we spent some of our time at a simple lakeside beach at one of Michigan’s recreation areas. The sandy swimming area was at the bottom of a beautiful green hillside. The hillside was dotted with large leafy trees that provided shady picnic areas to relax in. The lake was quiet and expansive. While walking through the ankle-deep water with my daughter, I noticed a mother of three young girls sitting on a blanket reading Wayne Dyer’s book 10 Secrets for Success and Inner Peace. I only know a little about Wayne Dyer and nothing about this book in particular, but that’s beside the point.

Most of the other parents and guardians had the usual attire of pool noodles, coolers, towels, and blankets. This book, in contrast, was like a tiny window into this woman’s life, her desires, and her longings. I try to remind myself that every person is a universe. We only ever see a tiny sliver, a general representation, of all the inner workings of a person. So as my daughter and I sat on our own picnic blanket eating snacks or walked along the shore trying to catch minnows, I occasionally found myself asking questions like:

  • Was the book a gift? If so, why?
  • Did she purchase the book herself? If so, why?

I admit, I have a lot of unread books lining my bookshelves and I’ve mostly put myself on a book-buying ban until I catch up. Sometimes, nevertheless, I’ll stand and look over some of the books that I own and remember how I felt when I first read or purchased them. I think about what questions I was trying answer about my life when I first picked a book up and flipped through the pages. My bookshelves are a sort of testimony and historical account of a part of myself that most people never see.

What hopes, desires, and longings was this woman hoping to find from this book as she opened it up and read from its pages?

There is a part of me that just wants to say I don’t know—but I’m pretty sure you, me, and all of the other people on that hillside do know. We know because we feel it too. Of course we don’t know the particulars of one another’s circumstances, but we all know that sense of sadness, longing, and hope that lies just beyond the surface of most of our smiles. We may laugh and celebrate the innocence of our children playing at the beach while we simultaneously ponder an unfulfilling career, a failed relationship, or the pile of laundry that will follow the day at the beach. If you look at any person with a certain level of compassion, I think you can see the melancholy in their eyes. Sometimes its not deep at all.

These thoughts all came together for me as I watched the video below published by the School of Life. As I watched this many times over, I realized that this woman was not the exception—the outlier who was experiencing anxiety and longing for inner peace—she was representative of everyone on the beach that day. Whatever longing, desire, and sadness she might have been experiencing wasn’t individual and particular, it is universal and affects us all. The book she held in her hands just happened to be the window that allowed me to be reminded of this. The truth is, to quote the video below, “…many decent people have a very hard time.”

For another perspective, see my other post titled Sadness and the Human Experience.

On Feeling Melancholy

Photo By Lance Baker

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