Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Elixir of Nepenthe

Nepenthe (pronounced [nə-ˈpen(t)-thē]) is a medicine for sorrow, literally an anti-depressant – a "drug of forgetfulness" mentioned in literature and mythology. 

Imagine what that would be like, a drug of forgetfulness. My first thought was that it would inevitably be abused. Who would take it? How severe must the trauma be to demand forgetting? Would their be psychological gatekeepers of the nepenthe?

Would a bad break-up be sufficient distress to prescribe the drug? I think not.

The loss of a child. Perhaps, yes. Direct, immediate psychic trauma would meet my criteria. War experiences, torture, physical abuse. But "a medicine for sorrow," we learn so much from our experiences, particularly from death. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, an elderly neighbor; don't these losses prepare us for the truly painful losses. We all have different attachments to friends and relatives, but what if we never learned about death, about how it feels. Yes, we become callous; we call it experience, wisdom; we call it life, the measure of being human.

No, I think nepenthe would have to be saved for those really awful experiences, those that carry such sorrow, such trauma that forgetfulness would be the humane course to recovery.

Surely nepenthe would come in a gilded chalice and possess a bitter yet forgetful taste.

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