Susan Cain, author of the New York Times bestseller, Quiet, has written a new book in which she explores, among many other things, her life-long tendency for leaning into sad music. Recognized as an “influencer” around the world, Cain explores her own stories as well as the experiences and research of others, coming to the conclusion that “sorrow and longing can make us whole”. In fact, Cain writes, “if you’re a naturally bittersweet type you have a headstart in feeling the tug of impermanence.” That impermanence includes the longing that Cain believes is also at the heart of most world religions.
Impermanence is one of the sure things about this earthly life. Loved ones are lost to death. Someone in the hierarchy above us makes us lose our job. A friendship that we were counting on is no more. Cain shares her own experiences of losing dear family members to COVID and of losing a job she thought had not only permanence but also possibility for advancement.
Cain weaves stories of music throughout, beginning with her own realization as a university student that her favored repertoire of melancholic music might not be the norm among her peers. Cain found herself drawn to music that stirs the soul, from Vedran Smailovic’s mournful tunes as he played Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor on his cello below his apartment for twenty four days for the 24 people killed by mortar shell in his Sarajevo street, to the violinist Min Kym who experienced deep joy and then pain in finding and then losing her beloved Stradivarius. From the power of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy to Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, Cain unpacks the themes of a longing for what is just beyond.
C.S. Lewis talks about an “inconsolable longing” or sehnsucht that pulls at the human heart. (The writings of Fredrick Buechner, who recently passed away, also hinge on a longing that we all have for ‘home.’) I was drawn to this book’s title having used the word bittersweet often in the past two years, a season marked by the needed care for and then the timely and quiet passing of a dear mom during a time of COVID uncertainties. Cain’s insights indeed speak to our deepest longings which she suggests are a bridge to whole and creative living. (Penguin Random House)