Sehnsucht: A Conversation

Contributor: Rick McGimpsey



Sehnsucht f ‎(genitive Sehnsucht, plural Sehnsüchte)

  1. yearning, longing (wistful or melancholy desire)
  2. desire
  3. wishfulness


Where has it gone, Mr. Kind?

Where has what gone, Mr. Mann?

I don’t know.

Then how can you bemoan its loss?

Because I can sense its loss.

How does that make you feel, Mr. Mann?


What is it that you have lost?

I told you. I don’t know. It meant something. It was there once.

Was it?

I don’t know.


I look back and see where it was. But when I look at my past self he was missing it then too. He bemoaned its loss. And he too looked back at a past self where he could see it. And that past self too bemoaned its loss.

How do you expect to find it?

I am trying. I only see it when it is gone. It is intangible. Unreachable. Painful.

Sehnsucht. Nostalgia.

Nostalgia for what?

You were happier. Not happy. But happier.

And I am getting less happy. In a year I will look back at this present self as a past self and I will miss it here too.

Have you come to any sense of what it is?

Sehnsucht. But why must it be so? For what purpose do I feel the pang of unreachable joy?
Why do present circumstances envy memories of life that was also unpleasant?

Sehnsucht is a harsh teacher.

But what does it teach?

That our inner needs and wants transcend what can be provided by the material universe.

Why are we so? What does sehnsucht do to help?

Sehnsucht points. It directs.

To what?

To what we were meant for.

Why is my life getting worse? More painful? More sick?

Because you have walked far from what you were meant for.

I have gotten more mature.

You have gotten older.

I had a wife.

She left you.

I have children.

You barely see them.

I am depressed and finding my way as best I can.

You are angry and trying to cushion your pain with sex. With drink. With food. With life.

What else is there any more, Mr. Kind?


A child’s glimpse of unreality.

Sehnsucht is a man’s glimpse of a child’s understanding of reality.

How so?

Sehnsucht evokes feeling from what you see, what you read, what you smell, what you taste. You remember as a boy the day you read that picture book.

The one with all the little objects hidden for you to search and find?

That’s the one. You remember the one image.

The box.

The box with no bottom. It was nothing more than a photographer’s trick. A magic concocted from photoshop.

It was still beautiful.

It was for you, Mr. Mann. The boy’s box full of toy soldiers, little plastic cars, and little plastic facsimiles of trees and roads.

All laid out in a box.

The photoshop effect depicted the back as a deep hole leading to a far country of blue sky and green earth.

It was like the Narnian wardrobe.

Yes. You felt something when you saw it.

Sehnsucht. I can’t explain it, Mr. Kind. I saw a glimpse of a secret. A hidden gem of some glory unaccesible to me. A world beyond the mundane reality in which I dwelt. It was only a silly innocuous child’s picture.

It gave you a thought.

A child’s thought.

The best thoughts often are children’s thoughts.

I have had dreams.

Of hidden places.


Hidden worlds behind the glass windows of toyshops. Places too high or two low. Too far. Or blocked by some cold ediface sent by cold reality.

I want that magic again. I want to sense sehsucht. I want to relive the excitement of sensing a world I cannot get to.

It gets less and less as time goes by doesn’t it?

I hate it, Mr. Kind. I hate the domination these other things have over the beauty and magic of my childhood.

What other things, Mr. Mann?


And its potential degeneration.

Material stuff.

They get dull after awhile.

Food and hedonism.

Does not sit well physically while the happiness dissipates.

The demands of life in general.

People constantly angry at you. Your feeling alone all the time. Your anger and personality posing problems for others. Your desire to do the right thing but your flesh controlling you instead. Your body and mind hate you it seems as much as your enemies do. You cannot get along with your ex-wife. Your children barely see you. You hide your hurts by pursuing sex, money, things, and food which in the end only torment your shattered mind with guilt, physical illness, loneliness, and an ever-increasing sense that sehnsucht is fading.

Is that the life of a man? To feel sehnsucht as a child and see it die as an adult?

Not the life of all men.

Then what happened to me?

You did not recognise sehnsucht for what He was. You sought Him as a feeling. You sought Him as a thing. You never sought Him as a companion.

My spiritual life has reached stagnation. What does this have to do with sehnsucht?

Everything, Mr. Mann. Sehnsucht was not separate from Him. The ugliness of your life came when you left Him as a childish fantasy. You rejected the search for magic as childish prattle and failed to mature in it. Sehnsucht was never meant to leave. It was meant to grow into an understanding of what it was.

And what is it?

I have said it before. It is a pointer. It hints at something else. It points to a need that the physical material universe cannot provide.

I don’t understand, Mr. Kind.

Sehnsucht is the feeling of belonging to something more. Unobtainability is only a sense you get from it in this physical life. The hidden worlds. The windows of toyshops. Your favourite nursery tales that left you feeling a sense of mystery. The box leading to a place you could not get to. Those were subtle hints of the depth of where your soul could go. Then your life got ugly. The warm spring of innocence got trampled and brutalised by the cruel winter of life. Ex-wives, financial difficulties, regrets, guilt, and all that territory is a temporary experience that you can move past in your soul if you once again embrace sehnsucht.

What am I supposed to do with sehnsucht?

Let sehnsucht transform itself in your adult life into the great purpose where you must go before your life ends.

Great purpose? What great purpose? There is no connection to sehnsucht and adulthood. A child can come into the world for sehnsucht. A child can enter each place and take in joy there like a sponge takes water. A man cannot go into life that way. An adult can only enter the world to be tortured, suffer betrayal, and die. A child does not.

There was once a child who was born for the sole purpose to be tortured, suffer betrayal, and die.

Apparently he never experienced sehnsucht.

He was sehnsucht, Mr. Mann.


Childhood joy, the love of life, and all things being made new as it is with children can be an experience and a life you can live as an adult.


You can apply the maturer form of sehnsucht to adult life.

The maturer form?

The maturer form that reveals that life is not chaos. It is not meant to be misery. It does not force you to feel ugliness and guilt. And in the end when you die you will meet the mystery of sehnsucht head on and He will embrace you in a warmth that will silence the pain, the tears, and the life you lived. The life focused on material things, sex, pleasure, and selfishness. You will see all such things grow small. And you will have fulfilled a dream you did not know you had. You will find the thing you lost but do not know what it is.

How would I meet such a person?

You can meet Him in this life. In preparation for the fulfillment of sehnsucht you may live a life devoted to Him. And the meaning and clarity you find will reshape you. It will hurt. You will die daily. But then you will live. He waits for your decision.

What is His name?


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