Not all of the world’s lovely music is in a major key. Some music rests in minor, passing over our senses subtly, smoothly. It does not call of attention or demand a change of mood. But to the listener whose heart is predisposed to sadness, the ebb and flow of music in a minor key frees up knots of emotion that would have remained tied otherwise.
There is a place for sadness in everyone’s life. Normally I talk about happiness on this blog, but tonight I’d like to take a break and give due credit to sadness, especially sadness without a cause.
Normally we feel sad for a definite reason: a death in the family, a breakup, a national crisis, a failed interview, or even something small like not doing well on a quiz. But every so often, sadness creeps into our lives unbidden and seemingly without motive.
This sadness does not feel the same way that the other kinds do. Other kinds of sadness roar into our lives, shackle us, and drag us into inescapable tar pits of unpleasant emotions. No, this is a gentle sadness, like a misting rain. It casts a grey shadow over you for a day or two, softly laying down a coat of dampness that slows your thinking ever so slightly, as though you were watching the world from behind a foggy window. This sadness does not make you want to cry, but only to think while curled up in a blanket and listening to the softest or most profound of your favorite songs.
Far from torturous, this soft sadness does not bring to mind all of the mistakes you’ve made or all the people you miss. It reminds you of nothing but itself, becoming a memory in and of itself. It is a productive sadness: it drives you to think of word combinations or images you had never even dreamed of before, and soon the cup of herbal tea that had occupied your hands is replaced by a pen and paper. Before long, you find yourself drawing with words or pictures, moved by the tide of sadness and the sound of music.
When the rain clouds pass, their work complete, they leave the air fresher and the grass greener. Likewise, when this causeless sadness passes—whether after a long nap or a long time alone—we are left a little fresher and more joyful for having a reprieve from endless exuberance. All sunshine and no rain, the grass will never grow. All happiness and no interludes of sadness, and neither will we.
This inexplicable sadness passes quickly, like a minor line in a passage of music that is mostly major. It winds itself around us for a moment, reminding us that sadness can be beautiful, before resolving itself in a major chord.