But beautiful melancholy invites nuance and complexity. It allows me to take the vastly polar ends of the emotional spectrum in stride, recognizing the transience of both.
There is something about Louisiana in the odd uneven throes of August.
Despite the muggy heat, the Mississippi Delta air is surprisingly pleasant, soft like silk on skin, honeysuckle, and swamp magnolias hanging in the atmosphere. It is another world really, a watery dreamland where massive bald cypress trees rise from the water draped with Spanish moss; birds call, insects whiz past and a million invisible eyes gaze from the depths of the shadows.
It is a place of fragile beauty, of songs and secrets, where rivers flow in the languid rhythms of childhood, carefree and unbothered, alive, and fickle, a mysterious backdrop for myths, legends, and folklore. The bayou is a perfect paradox. It is both a place to remember and a place to forget.
I am a lot, a woman with many layers, many dreams, many ideas, and a lot of emotions. And in an intangible way, I feel strangely connected to the sweet melancholy of the deep south. There is a pensive pleasure in the deeply tinted blue moods of melancholy. It visits you like a mist, a vapor, generally uninvited but certainly not unwelcome; it is an essential color in storytelling. It is a turbulence of heart that results in an active questioning of the status quo and a perpetual longing to create new ways of being and seeing. Our culture tends to confuse sadness and melancholy. But there is an appealing element of coziness connected with the later. It isn’t grim and miserable; it is comfortable and indulgent, highly subjective, and impossibly personal.
The world today is in a state of ongoing unease. This produces restless discomfort in people who have learned linearity but know little about what to do when linear patterns break. We prefer simple answers to complex questions, and we settle into emotional extremes as a result. But beautiful melancholy invites nuance and complexity. It allows me to take the vastly polar ends of the emotional spectrum in stride, recognizing the transience of both. It is happiness wrapped in the warm embrace of sadness.
When we avoid the darker emotions that exist for us in a world turned upside down, we miss the opportunity to be creatively empowered. When we glide over the surface of our feelings and never tangle in the depths where our world’s nuances are tested and refined, we miss the gift of crisis.
In the middle of the mess, maybe simplification is not the point. Melancholy allows the chaos in. And when we invite subtle nuances to the table, we can view the world through a much wider lens. There we find the difference between power and authority, between kindness and nice, between equality and equity, and between the grace of resilient systems and the fragility of perfection. Human nature is water, not stone, and that which bends and yields to discomfort is not at all weak. The years will make us resilient and wise.
When we face unfathomable challenges like those we are experiencing today, we have the privilege of transforming our hopes, our losses, and our dreams. But first, we must face them, not as a threat to the superficial comfort and contentment of happiness, but as an opportunity to do the work of sustenance and discovery necessary for change. Messy, chaotic, uncomfortable, change. And when all is said and done, isn’t that the point? Melancholy isn’t a sign of weakness, but perhaps perfection is.
There is much folklore and symbolism about the relative strength of trees. Some believe that the towering oak is the strongest of all. It is tall, thick, sturdy, and noble. But in Louisiana, the weeping willows and cypress trees line the bayous. And there is wisdom in the melancholy willow. Its leaves dancing gracefully in the breeze, free to dance and move as they please. When the sun gives way to hostile weather when winds become damaging, hostile, and harsh, the rigid and inflexible oak tree will collapse under pressure, but the willow will yield and bend, moving with the storm rather than resisting it. And after the storm subsides, she will stand upright again.
When we approach the storms in our lives like the willow tree, we learn to soften and welcome the pain. The willow tree’s power lies in its willingness to take the storm as it comes. I sometimes wonder about the strength of the Church. We seem so enamored by the oak tree’s attributes without recognizing that rigid inflexibility is not sustainable. If we pay attention to the person of Jesus, he is continually introducing new ways of thinking and behaving. If we are not open to God’s leading through the storm, if we depend on what we have always relied upon and where our mindset has always been, our perceptions and beliefs may snap like the oak. We must think differently. Sometimes the strongest, deepest, most potent, and abiding faith is that which is open and amenable to go where the storms may lead.
Oh, that we might see the strength of the melancholy willow. Accepting, accommodating, adjusting, learning, rooted in the person, the lessons, the example, and the love of Jesus. Both persistent and adaptable, unafraid of nuance, and not lured by the superficiality of happiness and ease.
It isn’t hard for the willow to bend with the breeze, but human nature resists the wind. What we don’t often acknowledge, however, is that reflection and resilience are inherent in us all. New is often frightening. We had this human thing figured out, and now we don’t. But new is life, and the heart of the Father is to bring beauty from ashes.
So, don’t be afraid to invite a little melancholy in with the knowledge that the active, invisible, and redemptive work of God happens in the messiest of places.