"As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; / [ . . . ] Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: / Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; / Selves -- goes itself; 'myself' it speaks and spells, / Crying 'What I do is me; for that I came'." --Gerard Manley Hopkins

06 February 2006

Seeing in the Dark

"The intensest light of reason and revelation combined can not shed such blazonings upon the deeper truths in man, as will sometimes proceed from his own profoundest gloom. Utter darkness is then his light, and cat-like he distinctly sees all objects through a medium which is mere blindness to common vision." Herman Melville, quoted by Joshua Schenk in Lincoln's Melancholy.

The people of his day, Schenk tells us, recognized Lincoln as "an able man, a dependable man, a man capable of great work. [They saw his melancholy] and hardly any thought it strange, or inconsistent, or contradictory. They saw him as he was, a full man whose griefs and solaces and talents ran together. [They recognized] someone full, someone real, someone who has lived and suffered as we have and who has come out stronger for it -- willing and able to wield his strength in service."

"Whatever greatness Lincoln achieved," he further states, "cannot be explained as a triumph over personal suffering. Rather, it must be accounted for as an outgrowth of the same system that produced that suffering."

I have come away from this book with more hope than I have felt in a long time, and that hope tied to specific ideas which can be articulated.

Schenk writes, "Lincoln's story confounds those who see depression as a collection of symptoms to be eliminated. But it resonates with those who see suffering as a potential catalyst of emotional growth." The latter is a basic Scriptural principle, but which, in our modern culture, we often forget and flee from.

Yet without this perspective, the one who suffers melancholia will always feel deformed, handicapped, sick, in need of a "cure." But maybe there is not always a cure. And maybe melancholia is not a sickness, but simply a part of some people's lives which can either destroy them or push them toward the great work they were created to do (and by "great work" I don't mean something necessarily like Lincoln's; "great work" can be raising your children to love God and their neighbor).

And making it even better, Schenk is a really good writer. So wonderful to read wisdom expressed articulately and even eloquently.


Cindy said...

Oh, you temptress!

:::trying to figure out a way to fit this in with the next Amazon order:::

Megan said...

Wow--me too.

Sorry about the _Lord of the Flies_ thing. :) And Madame Bovary was partially responsible for nearly putting me over the edge Junior year, so now it serves as my byword-phrase for "light reading."

Thanks for sharing so much wisdom with others.