August 30, 2017

When you are fifteen you are forgiven for writing tales of angst and self-absorbed, self-inflicted pain. When you are approaching fifty, feeling like your soul has a slow inexorable leak is more seen as mental illness.

Despair is losing all hope, and before 590 AD it was listed as tristitia, one of the cardinal sins (in 590 AD Pope Gregory combined it with acedia to become sloth). In the cardinal sin definition, sorrow is a form of mind corruption “ceasing to utilize the seven gifts of grace…(wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, piety, fortitude, and fear of the lord).” Despair in this definition is turning away from God’s help because, if there is no hope left, then you have forsaken God.

And yet, despair an middle age is not so much about the spiritual battle with belief and faith, rather it is the moment before coming to terms with mortality and the relentless march into decay. Let us not define despair as a deadly sin (though combining tristitia with acedia has lessened the cardinal nature of absolute sorrow as a sin), rather let us talk about sorrow and its associated depression.

There is sorrow in the idea that everything can kill you (and the anxiety that it might), there is sorrow in the transient nature of youth, beauty, joy, and happiness, there is sorrow in the idea of sorrow itself and the knowledge that there is inertia to return from that abyss. And so sorrow is like sitting in a pool of quicksand where you understand the danger of where you are sitting, but having little ability to self-rescue.

One ancillary impact of sorrow is the idea that there is someone (or something) that will rescue you. It may be a parent figure, or the hope a girlfriend or boyfriend will make you happy, or getting married, or having children, or finding a friend or romance or tryst or any number of external stimuli that give you temporary joy and respite from the sorrow, but the sorrow is still there and disappoints the attempts at happiness because the sorrow is inside and not driven out by the outside. This is not to say that one should not pursue happiness and gratification in an effort to stave off despair; it is just that the pursuit of joy is not the solution to the fundamental nature of sorrow.

The movie Inside Out draws a particularly good lesson in that Joy and Sorrow and indeed all the emotions are necessary to provide understanding around the events in your life. In much the same way, gratitude is a path to peace in the throes of anxiety and panic that transforms sorrow to despair.

And so we come closer to defining this feeling of the time before acceptance of mortality, a fine line between sorrow and despair,