What emotion do you believe is underrated?
“You need despair to win. You need to let it wash over you and stay long enough for it to become a tool. You need to let it tie itself to the hope you thought was now lost. That’s how you win. That’s how you beat them. It’s not always strength, or wits, or raw passion. Sometimes, for some of us, it’s despair that gets us over the line”.
This is the story of a Sunday morning.
A rare but delightful Sunday morning for an under-30 guy used to staying up late on weekends, featuring a rare but delightful purchase of a second-hand copy of “The Barber of Seville” from a rare but delightful human being that taught me the power of despair.
There’s a plaza in my city that’s not particularly pretty or nice or has any frequent use or anything. It’s just a plaza that runs alongside a series of buildings, each with its own inhabitants and coffee shops and lots of parking spaces with lots of men helping out for some change – a kind of half moon shaping up a whole neighborhood.
On that plaza, on Sundays with a frequency I cannot begin to know, a casual antiques market is organized.
Not a flea market, not a vintage market. It sells antiques and old books and records. It’s not fashionable because it’s not filled with açaí vendors and food trucks, nor with fashion bloggers selling their designer clothes or tourists looking for “authentic” souvenirs. But bear with me here.
I was taking a rare Sunday stroll across that plaza and looking at the items I would never consider buying. In this economy? An old petrol station tower? No way. Absorbed in the sounds of the selling and buying, and amid the cold and the feet stomping to shrug it away, I wasn’t looking at anything in particular, not even at the vinyl records I could buy to impress my friends on Instagram and not listen to them once.
I was instead thinking of how beautiful it is for someone to give up their Sunday morning to go out into the cold and sell the stuff they have at home that could be valuable to someone else.
Taking a chance on not being so attached to things and sharing them with others, knowing fully well that something might never interest anyone.
I eventually walked until one end of the plaza and stared back. What was I doing? Why did I feel drawn to this? Why wasn’t I inside with a notebook trying to write something good and slowly realizing I’ll never do anything significant?
What made me choose to be out here, freezing my poor fingers and having my face cut by the wind, looking at things I would never buy?
On my left side, by the parked vans and cars that belonged to many of the people exposing some of their treasures on a plaza and shielding themselves from the chilly weather and the sleepiness with hot cups of coffee, sat a woman and what I made out to be her mother, by a stand full of books and old magazines.
As I walked through the books, the woman greeted me and smiled through the cold air, and because I held two or three books on my right hand, she was quick to promise a discount on the total due.
As I put my bargains in a bag she provided, from “The Barber of Seville” to a Greek tragedy and a Shakespearean play, I was ready to pay and be on my way when she told me to “never stop reading tragedies, but never stop reading comedies either”.
She elaborated, upon my request.
“You see, both kinds of stories are born out of despair. And despair is good. People don’t consider despair a good thing because it involves suffering, but it is good. It saved my life.”
As we kept talking, she told me how she had had cancer, which was treated with chemo and surgeries through several years, by several doctors – a living hell for someone who had duties as a lawyer and could not perform them due to being insistently called to tests and all kinds of crap that come with the disease.
That, she told me, made her weary, and the stress and hopelessness led to despair.
“I began to feel cornered, and I was constantly thinking about how I could be set free. I considered suicide, sure. So many times. And I eventually turned that despair into action.
Because you can’t just sit idle when you’re despairing.
You do the most extreme things, if needed, to get you out of your predicament. For better or for worse“.
Despair led her to alternative medicines. To varying degrees of success. And to conflicts with doctors, missing appointments, switching jobs, and, eventually, finding mental peace and stability in a spiritual retreat. Cancer went away. Due to any of the actions undertaken by any of the parts? “Who cares? I can’t be ungrateful to those who treated me, because I’m sure that’s what saved me, but I reached a different degree of understanding. About everything. Now, I live. That’s the thing I owe to myself.”.
So, back to the beginning.
“Read tragedies and comedies. They both come out of despair. Because you’re leaving someone, because someone’s left you, because the world is shit and you’re going to die. You either make a big fuss about it, or you make jokes about it. Either way, that’s despair talking. But it gets you to do stuff. And, really, that’s the best thing. Because sometimes – not always, but sometimes – you can get the rainbow by going through all the rain. But you still need to walk and get wet.”.