Many a green isle needs must be
In the deep wide sea of Misery,
Or the mariner, worn and wan,
Never thus could voyage on.
(Percy Bysshe Shelley)
IF IT WERE NOT FOR SOLACE, MOST OF US WOULD HAVE GIVEN UP LONG AGO. Solace is comfort. It comes from the same Latin root as the word “consolation.” And what wonderful things comfort and consolation are. Where would any of us be without them?
In our culture, it is assumed that all of the painful emotions should be avoided. Feelings like sorrow, shame, and discouragement are defined as being inherently undesirable. If possible, they are to be kept out of our lives, and if they do appear, they are to be gotten rid of as soon as possible. As a result, most of us have the notion that giving solace or comfort to someone means helping them to hurry up and feel better. If they don’t snap out of it, we tend to lose patience.
But the painful emotions have their place, and they are not to be avoided. (Getting “stuck” in these, of course, is undesirable, but that is a discussion for another day.) The old saying is true: we can only heal what we’ve allowed ourselves to feel. So solace doesn’t necessarily mean ceasing to feel sorrow or pain. It means being comforted, encouraged, and supported while we feel those emotions. In time, we will feel better, but for the time being, we simply need solace.
Sometimes, we are in the position of giving solace. The art of consolation is a high art, and not many of us are adept at it. We would do well to work on our comforting skills. But at other times, we are the ones seeking solace. At such times, it’s easy to assume that we need another person to console us. And that may be true, but the fact is, there are many other rich sources of solace. Depending on our makeup, we may find comfort in books, music, or other things. The best one of all is the outdoors. “Nature has been for me, for as long as I remember, a source of solace, inspiration, adventure, and delight” (Lorraine Anderson). Ultimately, however, it is within our own hearts that comfort must be found. And find it we will, if we are patient.
“There is nothing so bitter that a patient mind cannot find some solace for it” (Seneca).