Ameneurosis: The half for­lorn, half escapist ache of a train whis­tle howl­ing in the dis­tance at night.

John Koenig, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

Sometimes, very late at night, when the wind blows just right, I will hear a steam engine whis­tle as a train cross­es the tracks on Flanagan Station Road. To cre­ate that sound, the con­duc­tor pulls a cord to open a valve, shoot­ing steam across a ring-shaped gap. As the air is forced across the gap, a mourn­ful wail car­ries across the miles between my heart and the train. The sound always sends me into a melan­choly state, ask­ing me to reflect on the gaps in my own life. I nev­er knew exact­ly how to describe the feel­ing that wash­es over me when I hear that sor­row­ful wail and love that I now have a word to describe it. 

I am fair­ly sen­si­tive by nature, espe­cial­ly at night and dur­ing the win­ter. Many peo­ple think that sad­ness is a trait to be avoid­ed at all costs.

I think sad­ness is a superpower. 

I’m not talk­ing about depres­sion, that chem­i­cal­ly-induced state of hope­less­ness. Depressed peo­ple get stuck in that men­tal are­na, can often become mired in a chron­ic, defeatist mind­set. It all becomes too much; they strug­gle to see the point of any of it. 

Photo by Antoine Beauvillain on Unsplash
Photo by Antoine Beauvillain on Unsplash

Sadness helps us see exact­ly the point. Without an appro­pri­ate amount of sad­ness, life becomes super­fi­cial, an exis­tence con­stant­ly being run through a fil­ter, amus­ing and nice to look at, but com­plete­ly lack­ing in depth and breadth. Why do so many see sad­ness as an afflic­tion instead of a birthright? When we lose the abil­i­ty to be ful­ly sad, we lose our con­nec­tion to our human­i­ty. Sadness is the gate­way to com­pas­sion and curios­i­ty, the dou­ble doors to a life of real meaning. 

The word sad­ness aris­es from the Latin word satis, mean­ing enough, and the Old English word sæd, mean­ing sat­ed. To be sor­row­ful orig­i­nal­ly meant to be full. Full of thoughts. Of feel­ings. Of life.

In the last few weeks, I’ve cried numer­ous times. I cried read­ing Noah Hawley’s haunt­ing book Anthem. I cried as I watched the snow fall, blan­ket­ing the drab in a glo­ri­ous white robe. I cried lis­ten­ing to Taylor Swift’s album Evermore. I cried – ok, bawled – remem­ber­ing the open­ing scene from Pixar’s Up. I cried while in child’s pose, while lying in bed wor­ry­ing about my daugh­ter, because I was angry and frus­trat­ed with my hus­band. I cried over an espe­cial­ly heart­warm­ing video of a sol­dier being reunit­ed with this dog. I cried lis­ten­ing to that train whistle. 

I cry because life is bru­tal and beau­ti­ful and baf­fling. Tears con­tain oil, mucus, water, salt, stress hor­mones, and nat­ur­al painkillers. A good cry is a psy­chic reboot, wash­ing away what­ev­er is pre­vent­ing us from see­ing the world clearly. 

Sadness isn’t a prob­lem to be fixed. Sadness is how we know we’re pay­ing atten­tion. We can then chan­nel that full­ness into cre­ative expres­sion. And it’s in the cre­at­ing that we can move on, like that train and its melan­choly voice. 

  • Erin Skinner Smith

    Erin Skinner Smith wants every­one to slow down, eat real food, move their bod­ies, go out­side, and hit the pil­low a lit­tle ear­li­er for a more pur­pose­ful exis­tence. She is a pub­lished writer, yoga teacher, and mind­ful­ness coach. When she’s not stand­ing on her head or typ­ing on her trusty lap­top, you’ll find her read­ing, play­ing gui­tar, enjoy­ing a glass of bour­bon, or snug­gling on the couch with her peo­ple and pets. Send her a dig­i­tal high five at erintheomplace.net.