Posted by Linda
I was thinking about the concept of Sehnsucht as longing and longing as sadness. I think longing also carries in it a known happy experience so powerful that we hope (even against hope) to regain it. I don’t think humans long for something not real and not already experienced. We might like the idea of living in another solar system but we don’t long to live there. At the same time, we don’t long for something commonly available. We like sunsets and seek them but don’t long for them, unless we have been deprived of them. No need to long for a sunset, we can help ourselves almost any day. I think longing attests to the real presence of life experiences of such profound and fulfilling beauty that they prove the worth of our existence. That may be why Tennyson described longing as “divine despair.”
“Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean,
Tears from the depth of some divine despair
Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,
In looking on the happy Autumn-fields,
And thinking of the days that are no more.”
We may feel we long for something past and lost and irretrievable, or that we long for something we have never had nor ever will, but I think longing implies a known thing or we just wouldn’t know it was out there to have. There is hope then in the ache of longing because it recognizes that the best has been available to us in the past and by extension is now and surely will be in the future.
Blind and deaf from her first year, Helen Keller rhapsodized about things she had not seen or heard since, or had never seen at all. Through her vibrant imagination, sights and sounds became known things. She could describe the song of a bird through feeling the vibrations of the branch where it perched. She vivified beauty simply through exercising intuitive instincts available to us all. It is hard to imagine transcending the weight of longing to see and hear again, but she emancipated her senses and redeemed her loss.
Someone at this moment is having an experience that will one day be longed for again. Why shouldn’t it be each of us? We can claim and reclaim joy.