A society is like an individual: in the face of a dark night it can either become defensive and avoid the challenge of new life, or it can reform itself and discover in the darkness where it has gone wrong. It takes a strong heart, a steady intelligence, and a visionary imagination to go in the direction of life. Sometimes society moves in the right direction; often it retrenches and gets worse. There appears to be no middle ground…
Society’s dark nights may fill you with dread and depress your spirits, but you can keep in mind that the darkness is necessary for life to proceed. You may not avoid tragedy, but you have the opportunity for a recovery of soul. Everything depends on how the dark night is handled: Will you try to overcome it and run away from it, or will you let it transform you and, “in solution,” give you new life?
–from Dark Nights of the Soul by Thomas Moore
I’m not sure what these words mean or if they really provide solace for our strange times. No matter what happens–coldblooded shootings, climate catastrophes, a splintering of the very foundations of our society–do we “lean into the discomfort” and let it inspire us to become (spiritually) richer people?
I remember my uncle Bruce saying with a tad of satisfaction shortly before he died in 2009 that the world was worse off than he’d ever known it. How I wish he and my father (his partner in crime) were here to help make sense of this, or even just to tell the sort of inappropriate jokes they excelled at.
Here’s a quote from the same book that I think is more helpful:
“A philosophy of life is a bundle of wisdom you have gathered from your reading and experience. It is not a rigid ideology that allows no development and complexity. It’s a living thing, a developing idea about life that belongs to you alone…essentially it is your special source of comfort and understanding. It allows you to be yourself, to judge yourself with reference to an absolute and not against the opinions of other human beings.”
This is far more freeing than bending with the wind. Along these lines, it would be wise to commit long passages of poetry to memory in order to have something to fall back on instead of losing oneself in an endless stream of CNN news briefs. A philosophy of life might be what Primo Levi had, quoting Dante in the camps, or it could mean reading Plutarch on the F train in the middle of an uncomfortable commute as my friend and coworker Stewart used to do. Every morning he’d arrive at the office with a tale of woe about his fellow passengers and a glint in his eye from the morsel of history he had just managed to imbibe. Better the lives of Roman Emperors than the Daily News.