Thursday, May 07, 2009
When Hitler is About as Logical as it Gets
"It's already been two years. I should be moving on."
"That was over ten years ago. What the hell?!"
"No one asks about it anymore at work. Clearly I shouldn't be worrying about this."
"No one wants to hear about it at this point. It's old news, a broken record."
(-from the last two days' classes of writing, from folks who are grieving)
Why do we put such standards on grief? Where did we get the idea that it is logical, rational, orderly? Or did we ever get that idea at all? Are we all a part of some conspiracy cabal in which we all came to the conclusion, separately at the same time, that one should only mourn for a distinct period of time (which no one can enumerate when I ask, btw) and after that, be done. Life finishes, right, so why shouldn't grief? Why don't emotions, memories, and thoughts of loved ones lost ever cease? Sometimes get stronger or more evocative even ten, twenty, fifty years later?
Last week's This American Life had a story on a woman seeking to renew her faith in God. She had lost it after praying so hard for a good, kind friend dying of Cancer. The friend died and her pact with God was lost - you didn't save her life, so I am not going to believe in you anymore. A classic answer: "Why would God take someone like her from life?" Answer: There must be No God. I am not mocking her at all - I did the same thing after my dad died, only I had to find God first, then angrily rebuke him after my Pastor told me that I would never see my daddy again because he went to Hell, since he didn't believe in Jesus. This woman went to talk to a media-promoted hand of God, some guy in Texas, and he kept throwing illogical, big-picture things at her: Evil is here for a reason and we can't know that reason, God takes folks for reasons we don't understand, etc. Ira Glass and this woman had a good laugh that Ira, an unbeliever, was able to give her answers based on an existence of God that this man couldn't that somehow also explained her friend's death.
Eventually, the pastor/priest resorted to a Hitler argument: that Hitler had to be killed, so some folks just have to go. The woman balked - said she, like many meme followers on the Internet, knows that as soon as Hitler enters an argument, you know the argument is over. Seriously? Really? Hitler? Was that necessary to talk about this woman's loss? She didn't throw out all he said because of this ending, but that was it for her. Clearly they were on different pages.
When we try to come up with answers about emotions, we are on different pages with ourselves. As soon as we begin to apply logic to loss, the Hitler contingency should be in effect. A blaring alarm should kick off: storyline, loss isn't an encyclopedia entry, shut it off, return to feeling.
Then we also notice, if we stop to share in unhurried, compassionate company, that all of these stories, from "I should be over this" to "Hitler had to die, too" (?!) are all coming from some kind of resistance, judgment, inside of us. Not outside. Not others, but us. Our impatience, our worry, our fear that we've done something wrong by feeling for so long.
Doesn't matter if it's a breakup, a job loss, divorce, death, death, death, impermanence isn't logical. Never has been. Never claimed to be (though some have claimed it to back up their reasonings, Buddhists included). It just is. The feelings come and go, clouds, storms, tornadoes, and we feel them when we can.
When I was 17, I tried to take my (turned out to be last) acid trip to "get to the depth of my grief over my father's death." It was the first time I tripped alone, and it was a super bad idea, though I am sure you already figured that out. Luckily, I had a friend willing to put our friendship on the line, and a brother willing to make me really uncomfortable without calling me out just to make sure I didn't do anything stupid while on serious hallucinogenics and also severely depressed. It took me ten or so years to really get that grief, like life, is bottomless. No answer will satisfy the heart. No answer will satisfy the mind, even. Needless to say, it was a bad trip and I never did acid again. But I had - and still have - a lot of grieving ahead, not just for those already gone then, but those still to come then and now.
Does grief get in the way of accepting impermanence? Are emotions a hindrance to enlightenment? I have come to decide that the only thing questions like this do is cause a further block to understanding. There is no analysis for emotions. They just are. Loss, like grief, is a fact, a fact as true and also as temporary as a rock. So let it be. Give it space. Don't try to get to the bottom of it. There is no bottom.