If you look up melancholy in the dictionary, you’ll see definitions like “depression of the spirit” and “sober thoughtfulness; pensiveness.” Because neither of those seem exactly right, and because I’m a word nerd, I looked up pensive and found “expressing or revealing thoughtfulness, usually marked by some sadness.”
Thoughtfulness marked by sadness fits, especially when adding this helpful explanation of synonyms for pensive from dictionary.com: “Pensive, meditative, reflective . . . pensive, the weakest of the three, suggests dreaminess or wistfulness, and may involve little or no thought to any purpose.”
That sounds about right.
And of course no one who’s read the Harry Potter books or seen the movies can read “pensive” without thinking of “pensieve,” the stone birdbath-like container of memories you can pull out and examine as if watching clips from a movie. That also fits.
All of this is a long-winded and roundabout way to say I’m sad that Borders stores are closing. The pensiveness, and the pensieveness, of my reaction has surprised me a little. After all, I walked away from Borders over seven years ago and have never regretted leaving. Of course, actually leaving took me a long time. For months before giving notice, lines from Lucinda Williams’ song “Can’t Let Go” kept playing in my head (“It’s over, I know it but I can’t let go”). In fact, I finally decided to really and truly leave when the song in my head switched over to Dylan’s “Things Have Changed” (“I used to care but things have changed”).
For the last couple of weeks, like thousands of other past and present Borders employees, I’ve been remembering the good times and reconnecting with old friends in the Borders employee group on Facebook, our very own modern, non-magical pensieve.
But why am I pensive, and possibly melancholy? I’m sad for those folks still at Borders who are losing their jobs, especially because I see on Facebook how much this hurts
them. As a customer, I’m sad that the stores will be gone, because I’ll miss shopping there. But my emotions run deeper than that.
I spent 12 years of my life as a Borders employee. For years I worked with thousands of people who believed that books mattered, and who thought it was important to get each
customer the exact book that s/he wanted or needed. I worked with hundreds of home office employees who tried hard to sustain a small bookstore feel in a growing company
of superstores. I worked with dozens of HR colleagues who struggled to balance a free, open, and fun atmosphere with a workplace environment where every employee felt valued and respected regardless of race, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation—or taste in books. We didn’t always succeed, but we always tried. In the end, though, we couldn’t sustain any of that; in the end, maybe none of that matters anymore.
And that makes me pensive. Possibly melancholy.
As I’ve written this, I’ve been hit with a flash of hindsight-clarity. Turns out I was just
fooling myself when I sang, “I used to care, but things have changed.” I never really stopped caring. Borders always mattered to me, and now it’s gone.
“Round every corner there’s something to see
Brings it right back to how it used to be,
Well it’s over, I know it but I can’t let go.”