I’ve always liked sad songs, sad movies, sad books. It seems to defy logic sometimes, that something that makes us feel pain or shed tears can be something we like. Or if “like” is the wrong word, perhaps it’s better to say these are things we indulge in. There are plenty of things going on in the world, real and terrible things, that leave us reeling that it can seem somehow counterintuitive to make yourself feel sad on purpose. And yet here we are, millions strong, watching This is Us, a TV show we KNOW is weekly moving us toward incredible heartbreak, and we tune in every time.
What is it about that kind of sadness, of knowing you’re watching or listening to or reading something that is just spooling out pain, inch by inch, that we willingly subject ourselves to? It’s not for everyone, of course. There are some folks who will say they never watch anything sad because the purpose of art, for them, is to cheer and uplift them. That’s a completely legitimate perspective, but it’s not mine. If I feel I’ve gone too long without a good cry, I can cue up “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu” by Neko Case or “Danny Boy”or “The Foggy Dew” by Sinead O'Connor, or watch About Time or The Elephant Man. They’ll have me cleansing the old lacrimal sacs in no time, feeling wrung out but also renewed.
There is something about letting myself get involved in a sad story that makes the sweetness of life, when it is felt, mean so much more. And when I am already immersed in melancholy, I partake in this kind of art to know that I am not alone in my pain. I know that the earth still spins, I know that a light comes after the darkness, I know eventually I will come through and the beauty and gratitude on the other side will be richer for having taken the dark journey.
Here are a few book picks for those of us who want to explore those feelings and who don’t mind a sliver of sadness buried within our hearts as a touchstone, a reminder, and a meditation.
-Polli Kenn is the Readers' Services Coordinator at Lawrence Public Library.