Higher Living Reflections

A Visit from Mnemosyne and I Feel Sad…Sorta

One of the weaknesses of the English language is that it oftentimes lumps similar emotions under one broad name. Love, for example. One can love intimately, but also love his/her siblings, friends, pets, career, and adventuring differently. The ancient Greeks were more precise. They distinguished among love’s various expressions: e.g., Eros meaning romantic; Philia, for friends and others; Storge, between parents and children; Agape, universal love.

Sadness is another term we apply to a broad range of feelings, often relating to immediate and tangible loss such as a death of a loved one.

Melancholy is an expression of sadness. The ancient Greeks explored melancholy – Melankholia – as they seemingly did with every aspect of the human psyche. It’s interesting to see how their word and its meaning have made their way into modern languages and thinking. In Spanish, melancholia; Italian, melancholia; German, Melancholie; and Danish, melankoli.

Hippocrates, the father of western medicine, attributed melancholy to an aberrant secretion of black bile. While medically and psychologically incorrect, Hippocrates, nonetheless, grasped the gripping potential power of the mood.

For a few, like Abraham Lincoln, it can be chronic. For others, melancholy can arise during periods when the individual is already feeling down and possibly in a vulnerable state. Like now. For many, this is a sad period given that the pandemic has touched them personally. Those not directly affected health wise might be feeling sad for them out of compassion or empathy.

Colloquially, we sometimes call it feeling blue or being down in the dumps. Outside factors such as gloomy weather and/or the time of day such as late afternoon can induce it. Or a visit to, photos of, and stories about the place of one’s childhood or other personally meaningful sites.

The last example suggests how melancholy can intertwine with another aspect of the human psyche: Memory. There again, the Greeks were on it. The Titan Mnemosyne, who gave birth to the nine Muses, was the goddess of memory. Our word mnemonic, which means “a device or code to assist memory,” comes from her name.

Recently, several sisters and I recalled via text some of the more joyful moments of our childhood. We didn’t have much growing up, but we never lacked for anything. Life was the way it was. Clothes were handed down. Food was not taken for granted. Vegetables from the garden and fruits from trees our father had planted before his untimely death were harvested – unless eaten on site – and canned. A hole in a sock or a button from a shirt merely meant a darning task to be done. We made our own fun and squabbled over who got to take his or her bath when. That is after we were old enough not to share a bath.

From the vantage of older age, we easily see the circumstances of our childhood and coming-of-age years having given us gifts unimagined then. We understand that which we lacked materially was more than made up for in an abundance of intangibles.

Those memories are amplified against the background of this pandemic, at a time when life is far from simple and safety and surety of health and financial means are very much under threat.

I am no psychologist or psychotherapist, but it seems a healthy way to explore rooms of one’s past is to note the feelings that arise when rummaging through them. Then, write about, sketch, and/or share them with others who also shared them – e.g., siblings – and friends who have related memories.

Of course, not all memories are uplifting. Some are likely painful, so it’s best to approach them carefully.

Still, in the end, we are our stories. So, think about it: Whence do they come? If you haven’t yet, perhaps it’s time you tell yours. In the telling you might shed a tear or a enjoy a laugh or both.

Thanks, Mnemosyne, for your gift.

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  • Patricia Sellers
    April 8, 2020 at 11:41 pm

    Funny to see this now. I saw a friendversary on Facebook between Steven and me so I dug up an old picture, then saw others from the past. .. even one from 6th ward lol.
    It’s good to be able to share these. Definately a different time back then
    There’s a world where we don’t hafto run
    There’s a time we’ll call our own living free in harmony and majesty
    Take me home. Take me home ”

    Sorry .. had a Dan Haggerty moment. Had to share
    Love you!!

  • Angela M Skiffen
    April 10, 2020 at 2:45 pm

    Ah! memories…bitter sweet memories….
    Sweet ones…..growing up life was uncomplicated and innocent. Home, Mom, siblings, nephews and nieces come over, friends. Later on children, their spouses and grandchildren, granddogs and cats! You knew that your family and true friends always loved you.
    Bitter ones…..learning about betrayal and lies….too hurtful …
    Yes we all have our story and what we go through in our lives makes us who we are at any moment in time. The important thing is to try to learn from all of these memories…build on our strengths and diminish our weaknesses.
    A life long challenge

  • Helen Botti
    April 12, 2020 at 1:24 am

    Dear Jerry, Memory” 8″ on the telephone, after seven wonderful children, is a good number to be !!!
    Just one of my newest Memories. All the others are in the past, but I don’t go back to much, as I am
    a person who is always looking in the future. Like tomorrow morning, when I see this huge Robin making her
    nest outside my immediate back door and the bird poop is all over my back steps!! How do I get rid of it again,
    and make it safe for me and my family??? I was looking forward to celebrate my 83rd birthday on Earth Day,
    with all my children, even those from out of state, but nobody can fly because of the Pandemic Virus. So thank
    you for all of your Publishing , Blogs, Good advice and all of the past “running” memories ! Love, Helen

  • Rick Posner
    April 28, 2020 at 2:27 am

    Thanks Jerry. I read this just after writing some “sketches” about my childhood room(s) so it resonated with me. The truth – if we can call it that – is in the sensory details…