I was…one whose negative demands were more violent than his positive, far more eager to escape pain than to achieve happiness, and feeling it something of an outrage that I had been created without my permission.
— C. S. Lewis, Surprised By Joy
Two days into my week at Madonna House in Combermere, Ontario, two things are continually on my mind. The first is the presence of Jesus, just out of sight, just over my shoulder. The second is the longing for death. So I guess you could say things are going pretty well.
If you are a habitually introspective person, your thoughts rarely surprise you. Outlandish, immoral, surreal, you’ve seen it all before: murder, radishes, bestiality, bellybuttons, whatever. Thoughts happen. So this longing for death doesn’t worry me.
When I say “longing for death” I don’t mean death per se is attractive. For example, I’m not sitting there thinking about pills or ropes or tall buildings. I’m not imagining my friends and family wailing over my pale, lifeless body and saying If only we had remembered to invite him to more parties then he would not have drowned himself in the river, and now all is sorrow, sorrow forever. That’s not it at all.
I also don’t mean that I’m unhappy or in pain. When I was depressed in college, that’s what longing for death meant: I hurt so bad, and couldn’t imagine any possible future where I would stop hurting or even start to hurt less, so I wanted to be dead.
This is very different. For one thing, I am happy, almost painfully so. The tall pines around Our Lady Of the Woods, the still-chilly spring, the easy camaraderie of the other guests, the clean fibrous vegetables and fresh cheese and warm bread. The cry of the loon, the symphony of bugs and frogs, the gentle Madawaska River.
But always this slow burn in the pit of my stomach, not painful, just there. It’s a continual posing of the question: When will all this be over?
What else do you call that but longing for death?
[To be continued on Tuesday]