The wound and the wonder

I have been thinking a lot about melancholy since my conversation with Chris over Thanksgiving weekend.  I think I was onto something when I said that melancholy was “the backdrop against which my entire life is lived.”  It is nothing less than an orientation towards experience, a lens through which I see the world.

But I don’t know that it’s as gloomy and sad as the connotations “melancholy” carries.  I looked up melancholy in the dictionary and found two definitions:


1.  a gloomy state of mind, esp. when habitual or prolonged; depression.
2.  sober thoughtfulness; pensiveness.

The first doesn’t feel right, but the second does, absolutely.  I’ve been thinking that melancholy, as applied to me or to how I live my life, is really another way of saying sensitivity.  Yesterday morning I stopped in my tracks, struck dumb by the glow of light leaking across the horizon as the sun began to rise, framed by the window of central parking at Logan Airport.  This morning, walking back to my car after drop-off, I noticed that the brown, curled leaves drifted against the curb, and on the sidewalk, the same way snow does in the winter.  Then this afternoon I observed, again, that thing which is really speaking to me lately: the web of barren branches against a steel gray sky.  And this time I saw two fat swallows high in the branches.  It looked – from my substantial distance – that they were sitting side by side, necks tucked as far as possible into their fat bodies as they faced into the late-fall-wind.

It’s all connected, the way I observe the world in sometimes-excruciating detail, the untrammelled rushes of joy I can feel at the most unexpected times, the heart-wrenching pain my life delivers at others.  This is all a part of being an exceptionally porous person.  Is it any wonder that I’ve had to develop coping mechanisms, be they an aversion to true vulnerability or a tendency towards distraction, in order to mitigate the power of constantly living in such an exposed way?  I’m easily overwhelmed by the grandeur and terror of this life, and I have over 36 years built up a variety of ways of managing the pain that that inundation can bring with it.  It’s a package deal, the wound and the wonder.  I don’t know how to have one without the other.  Even the most swollen, shiny rapture is striated with sadness.

So this is nothing new, I guess, just another assertion that “melancholy” in my case doesn’t mean depressed, or even sad all the time.  It just means incredibly open and sensitive to the world, in both its joy and its sorrow.  I’ve been depressed, have I ever, and this isn’t it.  Danielle LaPorte’s post about Depression vs. Sadness touches on this distinction.  It’s worth reading: Danielle’s words contain great wisdom.  I think the word “melancholy” as often applied to me just describes the skinless way I engage with the world.  I am easily moved, to either end of the spectrum of life’s emotions, easily hurt, easily overjoyed.  That’s just who I am.  And I’m fine being called melancholy.  I just want to describe how I understand the term.

12 thoughts on “The wound and the wonder”

  1. Your post today made me think of the lyrics in a Billy Joel song that is one of my favorites, Summer Highland Falls. “For we are always what our situations hand us. it’s either sadness or euphoria.”. I think to have the capacity to experience both could by many be considered a blessing.

  2. This post really speaks to me today. I just wrote a post about depression and how sometimes I’m just not sure if it’s my melancholic lens I see the world through, or if I really am “depressed” in the clinical way. You’re right, this melancholic personality has beautiful gifts such as huge compassion, and an ability to see into the grey area in a world of so much black and white. Thanks for sharing. I feel less alone.

  3. Very thoughtful stuff here. I am left with a question (one that I find myself asking recently): Do you think you are in part so porous, so attuned to rich details, because you are a writer, because you come here and record (so eloquently) the things you see and feel and hope for? I have been toying with the idea that becoming a writer (simply writing more and more) has literally made me see and respond to the world in a different way. Is our writing making us dance with melancholy? Perhaps. (But I wouldn’t have it any other way.)

  4. I don’t know – I sort of suspect it’s the other way around. I write, and come here (I cannot call myself a writer!) because of this sensitivity, this orientation.

  5. me too, lindsey. always wounded and in wonder. always experiencing extreme emotions. never neutral. vibrant color or midnight black. constant wild expansion and melancholy contraction. for instance, deeply love the romance of your photos today…feel them in the sinews of my being, the soul-aching beauty. {p.s. you are absolutely a writer, a masterful storyteller!}

  6. A thoughtful post. You are sensitive and you view the world that way. You are a talented writer and I love to come here and read your words!

  7. Great post, Lindsey. A core aspect of melancholy seems to be longing, the reaching of the heart for something it cannot define. In an odd sense this is our natural state; when we forget the primal wholeness we are in the silent depths of our being, we long for it. The tangible things of this world never quite satisfy that longing for what is intangible and by its nature always slightly beyond our reach.

  8. “another assertion that “melancholy” in my case doesn’t mean depressed, or even sad all the time. It just means incredibly open and sensitive to the world, in both its joy and its sorrow.” I love how you said this. I often feel my world is colored with both hues, joy and sorrow. Sometimes I try to reign myself in, trying to lasso the intense almost sdad part of my personality especially when I am experiencing joyful times. But reading your post, I think I shouldn’t fight it. I should accept that the melancholy is part of who I am, a sensitivity to both the “grandeur and the terror of life” as you describe.

  9. porous. Ah. That’s what it is for me. Thank you. This post is insightful and tells my story. I see things and they pour into me.

    I’ll see the light in the morning and feel flooded. Both by the light and tenderness of it’s quality. There is a ripping quality in that moment…a leaking. Porous is the precise word. Things just have a way of leaking into my heart and I can’t stop the transference.

    It’s like the blood/brain barrier. Oxygen migrates across there: back and forth with ease. My life feels like that, and because I have no stop valve on life, I am led to distraction.

    Well, this makes me understand myself so much better. Ah. Relief.

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