Yesterday I finished reading The Mayor of Casterbridge, the fourth Thomas Hardy novel I’ve read in the span of a little over a year and a half. I liked it less than I liked the other Hardy I read, but I really liked the other Hardy I read, so this is kind of like saying it was my least favorite Ruth Bader Ginsberg fact or least favorite Lin-Manuel Miranda tweet. At the end of the day, I really, really loved it. Anyway.
There was a moment in the book where (hopefully not giving anything away) a character’s reputation is spoiled and he/she dies that very night. I was thinking about how that happens all the time in Victorian novels: dying of grief, that is. This happened all the time in the 19th century. Andrew Jackson’s wife Rachel was so sad when he ran for office again, she died of grief, and it’s made into an excellent jab in the musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.
I assume this wasn’t really what happened. Try as you might, you can’t actually die of sadness. But as I was thinking about it, and I was thinking that I sort of wish you could. There should be a limit to the amount of sadness a human being is expected to bear before the body just gives up. I mean, right?
I have had relatively few struggles in my life compared to most people, but there are still times when you want to be like, “Okay, I’ve reached my limit. That’s all I can take.” Even for Job, there’s a limit to all God takes away from him before he starts giving it all back.
But I think the truth of it is that there is no limit to what human beings are asked to endure, and there’s no happy breaking point where God or Vishnu or the universe or a slightly morose Victorian novelist who shares a name with one of the stars of Mad Max: Fury Road comes in and says, “Alright, you’re done. You’ve handled all the suffering you can take, that’s it, you can collapse into a heap of tears and dissolve now. The story will go on without you.”
Only the more I think about it, the more I think that that is actually pretty great. Because what that means is, just as there’s no limit to human suffering, there also is no limit to human resilience. Try as it might, there’s no way sadness can actually destroy us, unless we decide to destroy ourselves. Human beings can deal with an immense amount of crap and still beat on, as Fitzgerald would say. We’re designed whether by nature or the divine to withstand an intense amount of pressure, and sure our mental health can affect our physical health in some ways, but there’s no way for sorrow alone to kill us.
I told my therapist about the suicidal thoughts I was having when I wrote, “I Am a Walking Garbage Fire” and she was like, “You know, sooner or later, you’re going to have to give those up.” And it was weirdly revelatory for me, maybe it was just the right time for that idea but I was like, “Oh, if I’m ever going to get healthy, I have to stop thinking of that as an option.” Should I not be talking about this on the internet? Probably not, right? But anyway I’ve just been thinking about how it’s not necessarily my fate to devolve into a pool of tears one day, because sadness itself can’t kill you. Only we can. The human spirit endures.
Anyway, Hillary sent me a very nice poem/letter this week that is now hanging on my wall, and I sent her a letter back this morning that won’t have come yet. It means so much to me that this stupid thing I’m doing means something to you guys, so thanks. I love you all, deeply and with the sincerity of Thomas Hardy preaching on the dangers of alcohol consumption, which is very sincere, because he hated it. A lot.