When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,Pessoa beckons -- as companion to my own disquiet I find him quite disquietingly meet:
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Sunk in these thoughts, my hapless self despising,
I turn for balm to Sonnet Twenty Nine
But two-thirds down, I feel my rancour rising...
The Bard recants his woe, and says he's fine!
Well, thanks a million, Will: my misery
Was reckoning on yours for company.
"I question myself but do not know myself. I've done nothing nor will I ever do anything useful to justify my existence. The part of my life not wasted in thinking up confused interpretations of nothing at all, has been spent making prose poems out of the incommunicable feelings I use to make the unknown universe my own. Both objectively and subjectively speaking, I'm sick of myself. I'm sick of everything, and of everything about everything." (Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet, p33)Enough for now -- this pretty well examples the tone of the book; I could go on, but I won't, lest in listing 'pertinent quotes' I end up copying out the entirety. Suffice to say, there's something strangely satisfying about finding someone whose written wranglings quite reflect my own occasional internal turmoil. I guess it's true: misery really does love company. In oh-so many ways, this seems a bleak and lamentable quirk of human nature.
But interestingly, the Bible seems to validate our longing for companionship in suffering. "Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep", says Paul, in Romans 12:15. And "If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together", in 1 Corinthians 12:26. This idea of experiencing things (emotions, even) in fellowship -- not in response to some sadistic demand from the hurting individual that other people suffer too, but, in humility and empathy, the whole Body willingly identifying with the individual at their point of pain... It is appealing. It is pretty radical. It...often feels a little out of reach.
I tend to find that the things which other people delight in make me quite miserable: Christmas, board games, holidays. Meanwhile, the things in which I delight bewilder other people: absurdly comic mishaps, sentences with pleasing cadences, solitary walks (unable, as I am, to run for now). Similarly with the bigger stuff: I haven't, for example, experienced the joys and challenges of having children, unlike many of our friends at this stage in life; conversely, most of those around me would not relate to the often-times fragility of my mental health when it comes to things like tiredness and adjustment of routine. This mismatch of experience, and my introverted personality, mean that when things do get tough, they often get lonely as well -- I might be tempted to draw more Pessoan comparisons:
"The natural reward for my withdrawal from life has been an inability, which I created in others, to sympathize with me. There's an aura of cold around me, a halo of ice that repels others. I still haven't managed not to feel the pain of my solitude. [...] I never doubted for a moment that they would all betray me and yet I was always shocked when they did. [...] I can't even imagine them feeling compassion for me since, though I am physically awkward and unacceptable, I don't have that degree of batteredness which would make me a likely candidate for other people's compassion, nor the sympathy that attracts it even when not obviously deserved..." (Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet, p152)I suspect the solution, or, at least, the right response to the problem, is well within my grasp. Paul isn't telling us what to expect from one another: he's telling us how to be towards one another. So I can do a lot worse than to actively engage with the realities of other people's lives, rather than mope about the fact that I've decided that they don't engage with mine. For me, this happens most powerfully through prayer. The more I pray for those I'm blessed to know, the more I feel connected to them; the more I recognise their needs and heartaches; the more I love them and begin to see them as He sees them and long for them to be blessed in the ways He longs to bless them. And, very often, the more I see stuff change for them -- because He answers!
OK, so, where does that leave me in my own struggles? First off, an interesting side-effect of praying for other people is that it distracts focus from myself and helps put my 'trials' in perspective. Sometimes, they turn out to be almost entirely the product of my own brooding -- and unselfish prayer is quite enough to dispel them! Sometimes, God softens my heart and helps me to see, with gratitude, the ways that the people around me are trying to be supportive and empathic after all. Secondly, and perhaps most obviously, I can pray for my stuff too, and all of the above applies: not only do I experience many direct answers, but my self-loathing is replaced with self-compassion as I begin to grasp His love for me. But even when I remain in pain or difficulty, and feel alone in human terms, in prayer I am confronted once again with the powerful fact of Jesus' own willing engagement with human suffering -- "being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:8). What better or more profound company could I possibly ask for my (too often petty) misery than his own, lovingly self-sacrificial, extreme physical and emotional and spiritual anguish...
He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:3-5)