"I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."

Thomas Jefferson
Sept. 23, 1800

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

L is for....Letting it out

I've been trying to write things on my other, happier blog and just can't. I figure maybe letting it out here will help. It's "safe" here as I have only one follower and I doubt she ever looks, it's so rarely I post and then very intermittently. These shootings in Newtown are so raw, so primal-sad, so completely un-understandable, I can't imagine anything I say failing to piss someone off somewhere as I try to work out my own thoughts. But if I am going to go on, I need to let it out. So here it goes, rambling though it be.

I'm thinking about what it means to share others' grief, or frustration, or anger, or any negative emotion. Sharing happiness is a given, it's universally accepted and expected. No one feels violated or invaded personally when another, even a stranger, shares their joy. We WANT it to spread around. But the negative emotions are different, on both sides. Sometimes we who grieve or enter a dark time in our lives want to hold that to ourselves. I don't know why. Part of it is surely the instinct to not hurt our friends, to not let our pain take away their happy. But pain is also more personal then joy, more private. To feel it is to admit some weakness, some vulnerability, and we are often loathe to do that, even to our closest friends and family. Just as the wisest one is the one who knows how much he fails to understand, the strongest ones are those who can admit they are weak. The stoic is, in my opinion, too weak to face the reality of his human emotions, or at least too weak to allow others to see. Pain and grief are sometimes strangely important to us. Even though they are negative, they are OURS and in dark times we need to feel a connection to our deeper self. Maybe pain gives us that, and it's strongest when we are quietest about it. But what to do when others are in pain? I try to find some common ground, some basis of understanding, but in doing so I fear others see me as minimizing their personal feelings by making them less than unique. I'm a bad example, I think. I'm about as clumsy as a person can get, in word and deed and timing and everything else. If a wrong thing can be said at a wrong time to a wrong person, I'm there saying it. If there's one subject a friend is sensitive about, I'm there cracking jokes to them about it. I chase all my friends away that way, some forever, the best only for a while, but still. I'm torn between silence that could be taken as uncaring or a failure to recognize a need and saying too much of the wrong thing. I can't find the happy middle. It sucks.

So, if it's so hard to understand what to do when our friends hurt, what do we do when it's strangers? When something like Newtown happens, the whole country, the whole world feels it. What must that do to the actual families that lost kids? To be almost forced to share the most intimate thing that has or will ever happen to you with millions of strangers must be surreal to say the least. Does it help or hurt? I don't know. Should we send them things -- cards, emails, facebook posts -- or does that just remind them for months and months of what happened. We feel great personal sadness and worry even though our own children are in no more or less danger than they were a month ago. We borrow their pain, or a part of it, to express the fear that lives in every parent's heart every day, all day. Is that a good thing? Or is it selfish? Is that making us all one community of parents? Or is that capitalizing on the very real and concrete misery of strangers? We feel, as parents, for any kids, but how far does that, how far should that go? We hug our children more and tighter, we treasure every second more fully, and that's a good thing. We take this as a chance to think about the unthinkable, to remember friends and family who lost children, and that's a good thing, too.

It's almost easier to dwell on the horrible possibilities when it's strangers bringing it up. When it's a close friend or family, we can tend to hide from the grief, to just not know what to do. I know I did when my sister lost her son right before Christmas about 8 years ago. See, I can't even tell you what year Angel died. I feel terrible about that. I was far away and didn't go home. I'll pay for that til I die, inside myself. No one has made me feel bad, it was a miscarriage so the social norms are very fuzzy, but I won't ever forgive myself. Maybe that's why I always err on overdoing the trying to care when  I think a friend is in need. Trying to not repeat past mistakes, to be stronger than I was. It doesn't work. But what else to do?

That's the lingering question from Newtown as well, what else to do? What do we take away? What do we learn? Do we crack down on guns? Do we militarize our schools? Do we re-open the mental hospitals and fill them with children like Adam? Do we leave them at home and trust them or a parent to drug them into submission every day for the rest of their lives? Can we prevent Adams from occurring by parenting differently?  By testing during pregnancy? Is that moral? What rights does Adam have? Is a sane mind required to take hold of rights our Declaration says emphatically are bestowed by God? Were we witnessing Evil at work? Were we witnessing mental illness at work? Are those really two different things? What is evil? What is mental illness if there is no cure? I've watched with fascination as the dividing line has been drawn on facebook between those who seek solace in faith and those who seek solace in science. The faith crowd cries "evil" and the science crowd derides them. The science crowd seeks comfort in logical, medical answers, and the faith crowd derides them. I can't find a home in either camp, surprise surprise. I believe in Evil. I refused to tell my son there were no such things as monsters because I believe it to be a lie. I put my faith in logic and reason as well, and believe science will hold the answer to all mysteries sooner or later. I think the two "sides" are inevitably going to come closer as we grow wiser. This debate is an example. A mental illness that allows a child to gun down children may be a chemical imbalance. Or it may not. It may not be something we can "fix." I think the way forward is for the faith crowd to support an endless effort to find the medical or psychiatric "fix" and for the science crowd to accept that there may not be one. There are constants in the universe, like the speed of light. Perhaps evil is one of them.

Or not. I don't know, and I'm ok with that. I'm trying to move forward doing the best i can. I cry when i feel like crying, and I laugh when I feel like laughing. I will listen to all of the debate about "what do we do" and I'll think and feel and reflect before I decide, if I ever do. I'll treasure my son and all the children in my life. I'll stumble and bumble along trying to watch out for my friends as they navigate rough times. Sometimes I'll be right, often I'll be wrong. But all I can do is try, and try I will.

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