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From “The Dream”

“…And this the world calls frenzy; but the wise
Have a far deeper madness, and the glance
Of melancholy is a fearful gift;
What is it but the telescope of truth?
Which strips the distance of its fantasies,
And brings life near in utter nakedness,
Making the cold reality too real!…”

Lincoln’s Great Depression: 
“…In his mid-forties the dark soil of Lincoln’s melancholy began to yield fruit. When he threw himself into the fight against the extension of slavery, the same qualities that had long brought him so much trouble played a defining role. The suffering he had endured lent him clarity and conviction, creative skills in the face of adversity, and a faithful humility that helped him guide the nation through its greatest peril.

CLARITY. Some people, [his friend] William Herndon observed, see the world “ornamented with beauty, life, and action; and hence more or less false and inexact.” Lincoln, on the other hand, “crushed the unreal, the inexact, the hollow, and the sham”—Everything came to him in its precise shape and color.” Such keen vision often brought Lincoln pain; being able to look troubling reality straight in the eye also proved a great strength….With Lincoln sadness did not just coexist with strength—these qualities ran together. Just as death supports new life in a healthy ecosystem, Lincoln’s self-negation fueled his peculiar confidence. His despair lay under a distinct hope; his overwhelming melancholy fed into a supple creative power, which allowed him not merely to see the truth of his circumstances but to express it in a stirring, meaningful way.”

The burden some feel of what used to be called “melancholy” and now “depression,” is also a terrible gift. Many know this experience, yet some are not yet sure it is worth it. The crush of intense thinking, the inability to ignore a thread and to chew on it, the press of so many things that seem to need addressing. It can feel like it is too much, sometimes. It can feel as though this is the worst that anyone has felt.

I can only say from history and creative giants like Byron and Lincoln, and the experience of friends and family–and my own–that there can be a purpose in suffering that comes if we transform it into a resolve: to live a life that is worth remembering, even a little.

What a shame it would be to live, and to not be remembered, after all.

The coming years will require people who have been hardened and strengthened by this suffering, because we will need you then. Great events are aligning again.

 

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