There is a quote from Charles Baudelaire, an 18th century French poet, that says:
“You must be drunk always. That is everything: the only question. Not to feel the horrible burden of Time that crushes your shoulders and bends you earthward, you must be drunk without respite.
But drunk on what? On wine, on poetry, on virtue—take your pick. But be drunk.
And if it should chance, on the steps of a palace, in the green weeds of a ditch, in the dreary solitude of your bedroom, you awake, your drunkenness grown less or gone, ask of the wind, of the wave, a star, bird, clock, anything fleeing, any that moan, that roll along, that sing, that speak, ask what hour it is; and the wind, wave, star, bird, clock, will reply, “The hour to be drunk! Not to be Time’s racked slaves, be drunk; be drunk without respite. On wine, on poetry, on virtue—take your pick.”
I remember the first time I read that quote I was standing in a bookstore in Houston. I had escaped into the rows of books that afternoon to find shelter from the relentless heat that plagues the city every summer.
Only a few months prior I had attended my brother’s funeral, a few months before that I left my boyfriend of 5 years, and a few months before that I graduated college. I was feeling irrevocably lost and alone in life in a number of ways – the way a person is when they’ve just finished school and they feel like they have the whole weight of their life on their shoulders, or the way a person is when they’ve just lost someone very close to them, or the way a person is when they’ve broken their own heart.
I wish I could remember more about this time period of my life but I can’t, despite it only being a few years ago. All I remember is the unforgiving sadness that radiated through me. I was very sad, yes, but I was also at a crucial point in my life where I was receptive to just about anything that came my way. I was looking for guidance, for answers, for anything at all that could help me get through this great moment of loss I was experiencing. I read that quote from Charles Baudelaire and realized I couldn’t remember the last time I felt passionate, or as he put it, drunk on anything in a very long time. I was looking for something to guide me and my approach on life and living but it wouldn’t be until much later when I would realize just what it was.
Creatively, I am inspired by vulnerability and anxiety, sweetness and empathy, fear and darkness – the emotional sides of ourselves we often think are a portrayal of weakness.
I think it’s interesting that when we’re going through a hard time in life people will say oh, you’ll be fine. everything happens for a reason, you’re just going through a hard time, everything will get better.
We want to put a band-aid on the issue, get medicated, move on to the next topic, promise each other that a better future is ahead. We say these things to gloss over the pain and get back to talking about lighter things – the weather, the daily routine, the humdrum of life. We accept these interactions, pretending we’re all alright, telling each other practical lies to keep the nerves from becoming too exposed.
I know that we’re only human and we don’t always have time to indulge others in their problems all the time, but I wish instead of barely acknowledging the darker experiences we each go through, we would instead say things like:
It’s okay that you loved someone and it didn’t work out and now you’re unsure of what’s coming up next.
It’s okay to feel scared and alone and to have regrets and wonder what you could have done differently in life.
It’s okay to feel homesick and lonely for a place you can no longer go back to.
It’s even okay to blame yourself, to blame others, to question everything you’ve ever been taught about life and love, to feel contradicting emotions at the same time while silently wondering if you’re going insane.
It’s perfectly fine to not be over something yet and it’s okay to have days where you feel like you want to die.
It’s okay to be soft.
There is nothing shameful in the experience of sadness or loneliness or heartbreak or emptiness and yet, these are the things we face alone, despite that many of these moments end up defining who we are. These are the sides of humanity that reveal the inner truth of us all but we often assume if someone is sweet then they must be naive and if someone is vulnerable then they are weak. We deny these sides of each other because maybe the most difficult part of hearing about someone else’s problems is having to come to terms with your own.
I wish it wasn’t such a cliché to say that I started reconsidering my ideas about life and death after my brother died, but that’s what happened. His death was much harder for me to take than when my father died because my father became ill when I was very young and his illness encompassed most of my adolescence. It’s much different to lose someone from a serious illness, where death seems likely and imminent, than to lose someone from suicide – a voluntary action. After my brother passed I spent months wondering what I could have said or done differently to make him change his mind, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t still experience moments of doubt and reconsideration of everything leading up to his death.
After he died, sometime after the grieving process, I started examining the way I treated the people in my life and the strangers I came into contact with. I began to take better care of seemingly meaningless situations and moments.
I realized every day on the streets, in the office, standing in line at the coffee shop there are a million stories waiting to be told. If you spend even 15 minutes with someone you realize there is so much within them, there is so much within all of us, and yet we are so careless in the way we behave and treat others.
We go through the motions and find ourselves in the same predicaments and situations as everyone else, like broken hearts and the passing of family members and lost jobs – all while struggling to understand why things happen to us, why we feel so alone, and how we can get past these uncomfortable emotions. We have to stop running from these things, though. When you are lonely, let yourself be lonely. Stop trying to find something to fill the void. This is the universe giving you a moment to be with yourself.
I truly believe it’s within these moments of change and discomfort where the greatest strength can be found, because sometimes I think when you have lost everything you do so much to fill yourself back up. And that is why I try to make last words count, and that is why I try to go the extra distance with people and give second, third, sometimes fourth chances. My heart is whole. My heart is so whole.
Of course, all of this is not without saying that I don’t have moments of melancholia or jealousy or times when I want nothing more than to just be left alone. I know I have been hurtful in my actions and words to others in the past and I know I have made choices I greatly regretted later on in reflection. We all have flaws and imperfections within our character. We can’t be kind and forgiving all the time in every situation because that isn’t real life. We are all prone to making mistakes because that is part of what it means to be alive.
I just think if we each started making more of an effort to understand one another on a more consistent basis this need to find what we’re looking for in life wouldn’t feel like such an ongoing, hopeless pursuit, and we wouldn’t always feel like we’re waiting for the next best thing to come along to make things better. More than love we desire understanding.
We don’t choose where we come from – the family we were born into, the town we grew up in, the school we had to go to, the moments during adolescence who made us who we are. No, we didn’t have much of a part in choosing any (or most) of those things, but we can choose – now and in this moment – where we go from here.
No one ever figures out what life is all about. Not really. We are each a story within ourselves but the thing we have to remember is that we don’t have to be the relatable protagonist in this novel called Life. We don’t need everyone to like us or identify with our struggle or empathize with our circumstance for us to be human. We have to remember that on some days getting out of bed is just enough to know we’re doing better than we think are. Perhaps if we accepted the parts of ourselves we so often hide from others and we understood that we’re all just trying to figure out the chapter of our life we’re currently in we wouldn’t feel so incomplete.
Love and compassion are essential but these are things we must be actively giving to each other. It’s easy to talk about how important these things are for fulfillment but if you are not earnestly showing gratitude and tenderness in your life then the beauty of grace will not surround you in the ways you are looking for.
When Charles Baudelaire said to be drunk without respite and to not to feel the horrible burden of time I understand that to mean a few things:
Live your life and love people fearlessly, without abandon and without the promise of tomorrow. There is no wall – at any age or in any circumstance in life. Find your passions. Define your virtues. Dedicate your life to the things and the people you believe in. Stand by your convictions. Find a reason to fall in love with your life every day.
When you begin looking at life this way and are actively seeking to understand the world around you I think you will no longer try to fill the void that creeps up on all of us from time to time with meaningless words and empty experiences.
Life is as spectacular as you make it and sometimes you have to remind yourself of all the magic in the world.