For some time now I have found my attention returning to the idea of “Weltschmerz”1 that I wrote about in a former blog entry in July of this year. I continue to feel a deep sense of empathy with many conditions present in our world. This was triggered again by word of the passing of a truly great human being of our time, Paul Newman. As reports were shared, not only about his acting, which he often felt was below the level of perfection he desired, but also his generosity in giving richly to many charitable causes, I found myself sadly missing his presence, as though he were a personal friend. I also felt a sense of general loss in that humanity often fails to comprehend the contributions so many make behind the scenes. I watched Casablanca the other night and found the same emotions surfacing as I thought about Bogart, Bergman and the other great actors in the film, all gone now. These people have enriched our lives—individually and collectively.
Today I received news from a list that I am on about a book by Kathleen Norris2. It was a review in the Seattle Times by Portland author, Kimberly Marlowe Hartnett. The word “acedia” was new to me, perhaps because, according to reviewer, it has been dropped from dictionaries. We may be more accustomed to the word “sloth,” which is a synonym most associated with the seven deadly sins of Christendom. Sloth suffocates a satisfying life of the mind or a sustaining spirituality. I like the definition given in Wikipedia: “Acedia is a Latin word, from Greek akedia, literally meaning ‘absence of caring’."
These two words: Weltschmerz and acedia came together for me. Feeling world pain can come about because a person recognizes there is an absence of caring in the minds of many on the planet. We tend to care when our needs are not met or we are personally challenged in some way. I believe that a satisfying life of the mind is developed as we begin to reconnect with our spirituality and notice the little things in our world. As we reach beyond our own needs, our vision will embrace the contributions made by so many people doing so many things to make our world better for everyone. Hopefully, this broader vision will also move us past the judgments we tend to make of others we feel fall short of what we expect of them. Finally, I must examine my own life of mind to make certain my thoughts are postive and supportive of the highest and best in myself and in others with whom I have interaction.
As the emotions of concern and positive caring surface in my daily experiences, I will remember the satisfying life of the mind that results as I give of myself wherever I am able and through whatever talents I may have to share.
1 Weltschmerz (VELT-shmerts): German, from Welt (world) and Schmerz (pain). It refers to world-weariness or sadness felt at observing the difference between physical reality and the ideal state.
2 Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer's Life (Riverhead, 334 pp., $25.99).