Commentary Existentialism

Jason Dias: What Is Sadness For?

what is sadness for?
Jason Dias
Written by Jason Dias

You live one moment, then the next, then the next. And you keep doing it until all your moments are gone. So what is sadness for? Essay.

jason-dias-anewdomainaNewDomain — What is sadness for?

Kobayashi Issa wrote a poem. It goes, roughly:

The dewdrop world

Is the dewdrop world.

And yet, and yet …

I can write it down all day. I can’t read it out loud. It makes me cry every time, and I just can’t get through it. I can’t explain why this is.

You ever read Goethe’s Faust? In English? Ever wonder why it rhymes? Why should German translated into English follow a rhyming and meter pattern? It’s because English is a staggeringly versatile language, with sometimes dozens of words for the same thing that can be arranged in hundreds of ways. Whoever translated Goethe had to pick words that made sense in the cadence, told the story and had rhymes at the end. And you thought translation was simple.

Faust

I’ve seen a couple of versions of Issa’s Dewdrop poem, and all of them do the same thing to me. The world of dew/is the world of dew/and yet/and yet. Doesn’t matter. It still puts me in a world of weeping.

The poem is about, or at least it follows, the death of Issa’s young daughter. She was just a toddler. Life was brutal in 1820s Japan and Issa suffered. He suffered loss after loss. The deaths of children are especially painful and poignant.

And this poem is especially so. The world of dew, or the dewdrop world, is a temporary world. An impermanent one. Dew comes, dew goes. 

It leaves behind nothing. But we can be with it for a moment, savor its beauty. Touch it, watch the plants and animals the dew feeds, know about it. Dew can say nothing to us, know nothing of us – like small children. Then it’s gone.

issa3 That’s what sadness is for — for recognizing the beauty of transient moments, of feeling the pain, sorrow and elation of impermanence. 

Out there, beyond the world, is something that seems permanent. Hard decisions are best made lying on one’s back and watching the night sky turn around and around. 

Out there is eternity, things that never end or end only on a scale we can’t comprehend. In here, in the world, whenever we see that life is temporary, that’s a chance to see what is out there, in here.

You can take this a couple of ways.

For example, you can get the hell started on your bucket list. 

I think country music is insipid, but this guy has the right idea:

What are you waiting for?

Or you can learn to value the moment for itself. A child is born, it inherits all your expectations and attachments but can’t ever fulfill them. It is impermanent, ephemeral, all too often snatched away. That’s what happens. Life is loss. 

To live in the dewissa4drop world is to love your children. Now. Not for what they might grow up to be, not for the grades they might get or the woman they might marry or the medals they might win but now. 

For who and what they are now.

Dewdrops.

This moment is impermanent. 

It will be over soon. 

It’s over now. And a new moment begun. 

There’s beauty in the mundane, in pulling weeds in the garden or cutting celery for stew or changing a diaper. There’s beauty in the impermanence of that moment, this moment. Moments so fleeting, shockingly short, gone. 

The slap of awareness: you just died, just a little bit, just then. And you died just now again and again and again. And every death heralds a new life, a new moment, until there are no more moments left for you.

what is sadness for

You make out with your girlfriend for the first time. That’s the last time you’ll ever kiss her for the first time. Joy, lust, love – all tinged with sadness. 

Beautiful sadness, holy, mad sadness, sadness that recognizes the ephemeral in the mundane and the eternal in the impermanent.

That’s what sadness is for.

For aNewDomain, I am Jason Dias.

Image one: Heliotricity.com, All Rights Reserved; image two and cover image: Geography.Hunter.CUNY.edu, All Rights Reservedimage three: InCommunion.org, All Rights Reserved; image four: HaikuGuy.com, All Rights Reserved.

About the author

Jason Dias

Jason Dias

Jason Dias, PsyD is an existential psychotherapist who breathes words. He's a senior columnist at aNewDomain.