The Dead

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Sometimes those of us cursed with Irish blood just end up a drunken, crying mess at the end of the night.

“What,” my friend asked a religious the other night, “is the difference between being sad and having a spirit of sadness?” He replied that a spirit of sadness permeates everything you do and that it leads you to live your life completely without hope. Where (diagnosed, clinical) depression fits into all of this, I think, is a post for another day. The friar’s words caught my attention. Last night I convinced some of my friends to watch The Dead, the film adaptation of Joyce’s short story in Dubliners. One friend astutely pointed out that everyone but Gabriel seems to miss something, have a lack or a wound that they mourn over, and at the end he laments that he has never felt such deep love for someone or something. But the Irish approach, as I’ve come to know it through generations of sadness in my family, is quite dangerous. It leaves you always trying to escape, discarding the present completely. It plunges you into a world of drunkenness and emotions and stasis. It’s everything I’ve written that Christians should not do.

There’s a deep romantic beauty to the Irish outlook on life, and yes, I tear up when Greta talks about Michael Furey and during Gabriel’s last speech when he sees so little difference between the living and the dead. But ultimately Joyce’s characters are stuck in a quagmire they believe they have no control over. In a perverse way it can be fun to throw one’s hands up, say “life is terrible,” and then drink oneself to the point of oblivion. But this is not sustainable, because nostalgia becomes one’s god, and when it comes to gods, the human heart has a limited capacity for how many it can worship.

God is never powerless unless we force him to be. Nothing shall be impossible for him. The past, present, and future can all be healed and glorified through him, but we can’t cling to sadness because it feels good and safe and familiar. That is part of the lie that sadness tells us: that only fools are happy. It’s not so. Foolish are the ones who have let their lamps burn out because they no longer wait in expectation of the Bridegroom. The wise rejoice because they know the hour is close at hand.

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