Thursday, March 03, 2005

"I can't go on. I'll go on."--Samuel Beckett

Despair is the topic of the age, the lingering residue of the end of Romanticism and the advent of the Modern. It's so prevalent now, there's a company devoted to it, and they publish some wonderful parodies of "motivational posters. My favorite is: the one about "Burnout. "Attitudes are contagious. Mine might kill you."

Well, that, and the one about mistakes: "It could be that the purpose of your life is only to serve as a warning to others."

Maybe that's why despair and I get along; because I was weaned on Calvinism and then Existentialism, and finally "Modern" literature. Or maybe it's because I remember despair, and haven't been back there in years.

Good times, good times.

Kathleen Norris, an oblate to a Benedictine monastery in North Dakota, says the monks call it acedie. It is the time in the desert, that spiritual space between certainty and the renewal of the experience of truth, an experience that may or may not come. Monks come to the monastery, passionate for a fuller relationship with God. Believers, especially new converts, are initially on fire with their new realizations about faith. It can be a powerful motivator, and even lead to visions. But passion doesn't guarantee results, or even a response. Mother Teresa reportedly went to India following a vision from the Christ, the last of several. Despite all her years of devotion in India, she never had another one. And she never stopped longing for it. She couldn't go on; and she went on.

Despair, in the final analysis, is a luxury of adolescence. It is the flip side of passion, the realization that the powerful longing you felt, is gone, and may never return. Passion is what we discover in our childhood, our "teenage years." Passion is that first powerful reconnection with another person, the first one we are aware of as a person ourselves. It can seem to be the only reason to act, to do anything, it is such a potent force. Eventually you find you go on without an emotional spur for every decision. Because, eventually, it's not about what you feel. It's about what you do.

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