Sunday, May 3, 2020

On Grief, Loss, Guilt and Judgment: A Little Light Reading

I’ve been in a pondering mood lately what with all of the goings-on in the world. I’m going to get serious here for a bit and I’m fairly certain I’m going to cock it up royally, but here goes: Specifically, I’ve been pondering the concept of adversity and along with it, the judgmental thoughts I’ve been struggling with. About year ago, I started listening to Jocko Willink’s podcast pretty regularly. He covers a lot of war history and has done some deep dives into many books that have been written about various wars and battles. Some of those stories haunt me to this day. I finally had to stop listening at work because every week I would start tearing up at some point. What the people in those wars suffered was beyond adversity—it was unimaginable horror. I don’t know how any of them went on living after it was all over. Yet somehow they continued on with their lives, all before therapy was ubiquitous and before we knew much about psychology.  

People are suffering. I’m very worried for small business owners and deeply saddened by all of the boarded up businesses in my neighborhood. The financial hardships will have devastating consequences for years to come. Families have not been able to be with their loved ones when they pass away. Some people will have permanent physical damage from this virus. So a part of me feels very judgmental and irritated by what I deem to be petty complaints and overly-dramatic teeth-gnashing about “how hard it is” from people who are getting paid to work in the comfort of their own homes. I find myself thinking, We’ve gotten soft. We’ve allowed luxury and abundance to weaken us. People used to be tougher, more self-sacrificing and community-minded, stronger in mind and body. People need to buck up, face reality and get their shit together. Now is the time to stop wallowing, tighten up and get into fighting shape. If you didn’t lose your job or your business, or you didn’t lose a loved one, you have no right to be complaining right now. I don’t care about your visible roots or the fact that you can’t go to a cocktail party or that there’s no basketball.   

And yet those losses are real and legitimate. Those are things that signify normalcy and a functioning society. Shared cultural experiences such as March Madness matter. Visits to the salon matter. Parties matter. All of the things that we are not able to engage in right now are important to maintaining the integrity of a culture and our identity within it. It’s natural to be sad about their loss.   

When I thought about it honestly, I realized that my judgmentalness is a projection. A part of me is angry at myself for the grief I’m carrying about my own losses, because I’ve deemed them to be petty compared to what other people are suffering. Yet they are still my losses, they are real, and they hurt--a lot. The loss of the mental and emotional haven of the gym, where I have grown strong and physically confident for the first time in my life, the furloughing of the tight-knit community of volunteers that I have built and cultivated over the years at work, the job that I loved being (temporarily, I hope) replaced with one that I find vexing, stressful and ungratifying, the loss of friendliness at my grocery store because customers are now the enemy, and the disruption of the familiar rhythms and sounds of my day-to-day. These are the things of my life. It’s not a huge, important life but it is what I built. These are the things that I care about and that I carry with me in my heart. Yet I don’t feel okay talking about these sadnesses, because I’m fine. I know I’m fine. I have food and shelter and gainful employment. I am grateful and I should be grateful. It’s a daily wresting match with my guilt, and I don’t have a simple answer. I suspect I’m going to have to just allow this one to be complicated and unresolved. 

Also, were people tougher “back then”? I’m not so sure about that. Because while there are stories of great valor, there are also plenty of stories of people being cheap, petty sell-outs and making cowardly choices. So maybe I’m idealizing people. The truth is that people were probably just as weak, lazy and soft back then as they are now, but they couldn’t indulge those qualities to the degree we can today because they didn’t have the internet, Grub Hub and Amazon one-day delivery. 

Whew, alrighty then. Onto some music. This too shall pass. Let’s all take a little solace in Israel "IZ" Kamakawiwoʻole’s “Over the Rainbow.”

--Kristen McHenry


Steven Cain said...

Yes. said...

Your post here you could publish as a commentary article for numerous publications, I think. It's deep, intricate and insightful. And the classic from Kamakawiwoʻole I haven't heard in a long spell. I used to play it often at my happy hours up in Oregon ages ago.