Monday, April 23, 2012

Sorrow Passes and We Remain

I stumbled upon this site last week, and of all the famous letters I read through, this one struck a chord.  My blog is a sporadic account of my life... delicious meals, fun weekends, date nights and funny stories.  I'm a happy person, and I think its obvious that the topic of most blogs revolves around happy cheerful things like cupcakes, pretty clothes, new recipes, DIY projects and fitness routines because, well... they're happy.  I love reading my daily blogs, and getting a glimpse into other lives filled with said happiness.  However, I've been frustrated recently with the tone of some.  There are some blogs that are very real; you feel for the writer and when they're sad you're sad for them too.  There are others that seem to focus on humor and happiness 100% of the time.  Even in moments of sadness, it feels like there is a forced attempt to convey happiness at the end so that even though things have been really bad, there is still this great new recipe to try or its not actually a big deal because having a baby is the best!  I realize this might be a bit ironic, coming from someone who ends posts with things that make me happy.  However, its more of a way for me to keep in mind that the little things are so important (should I start doing "Shit that really pisses me off"??).  Feeling sad, overwhelmed, depressed and lonely are all normal.  I wouldn't say unfortunately, because they make us who we are.  But nobody like feelings this way.  I went through a very very dark time in my life a few years ago, and it lasted over a year.  I was sad all the time, hurt people both intentionally and unintentionally, and I will never forget how incredibly isolated and alone I felt.  Fortunately, I never was.  I know this now.  This is the most beautiful letter I have ever read, and I hope it comforts someone to know that "sorrow passes and we remain."


In July of 1883, the novelist Henry James received an emotional letter from Grace Norton — a good friend and fellow writer who, following a death in the family, had recently become depressed and was desperate for direction. James's beautiful response can be seen below. It is, without a doubt, one of the greatest letters of advice I've ever had the fortune to read.

(Source: Henry James: Selected Letters; Image: Henry James in 1912, via.)

131 Mount Vernon St.,

July 28th

My dear Grace,

Before the sufferings of others I am always utterly powerless, and the letter you gave me reveals such depths of suffering that I hardly know what to say to you. This indeed is not my last word—but it must be my first. You are not isolated, verily, in such states of feeling as this—that is, in the sense that you appear to make all the misery of all mankind your own; only I have a terrible sense that you give all and receive nothing—that there is no reciprocity in your sympathy—that you have all the affliction of it and none of the returns. However—I am determined not to speak to you except with the voice of stoicism. I don't know why we live—the gift of life comes to us from I don't know what source or for what purpose; but I believe we can go on living for the reason that (always of course up to a certain point) life is the most valuable thing we know anything about and it is therefore presumptively a great mistake to surrender it while there is any yet left in the cup. In other words consciousness is an illimitable power, and though at times it may seem to be all consciousness of misery, yet in the way it propagates itself from wave to wave, so that we never cease to feel, though at moments we appear to, try to, pray to, there is something that holds one in one's place, makes it a standpoint in the universe which it is probably good not to forsake. You are right in your consciousness that we are all echoes and reverberations of the same, and you are noble when your interest and pity as to everything that surrounds you, appears to have a sustaining and harmonizing power. Only don't, I beseech you, generalize too much in these sympathies and tendernesses—remember that every life is a special problem which is not yours but another's, and content yourself with the terrible algebra of your own. Don't melt too much into the universe, but be as solid and dense and fixed as you can. We all live together, and those of us who love and know, live so most. We help each other—even unconsciously, each in our own effort, we lighten the effort of others, we contribute to the sum of success, make it possible for others to live. Sorrow comes in great waves—no one can know that better than you—but it rolls over us, and though it may almost smother us it leaves us on the spot and we know that if it is strong we are stronger, inasmuch as it passes and we remain. It wears us, uses us, but we wear it and use it in return; and it is blind, whereas we after a manner see. My dear Grace, you are passing through a darkness in which I myself in my ignorance see nothing but that you have been made wretchedly ill by it; but it is only a darkness, it is not an end, or the end. Don't think, don't feel, any more than you can help, don't conclude or decide—don't do anything but wait. Everything will pass, and serenity and accepted mysteries and disillusionments, and the tenderness of a few good people, and new opportunities and ever so much of life, in a word, will remain. You will do all sorts of things yet, and I will help you. The only thing is not to melt in the meanwhile. I insist upon the necessity of a sort of mechanical condensation—so that however fast the horse may run away there will, when he pulls up, be a somewhat agitated but perfectly identical G. N. left in the saddle. Try not to be ill—that is all; for in that there is a future. You are marked out for success, and you must not fail. You have my tenderest affection and all my confidence.

Ever your faithful friend—

Henry James

1 comment:

  1. This was a wonderful post, and such a stunningly beautiful letter... we're definitely on the same wavelength, girl!