Thursday, July 31, 2014

Bright side of grief: for Y

There is something lovely about cross-blog dialogue with friends...

Y, who lost her father this spring, posted recently on her blog (to which I cannot provide a link cuz she's all private and stuff. She's probably one of possibly 3 people who will read this anyway) about the "upside of grief." Something I've been thinking about--what follows is the rough draft of a stream-of-consciousness meditation. Don't expect conclusions or convictions.

Maybe there are two kinds of grief.

Every life naturally includes death and loss, even unexpected death and loss. But (as Donald Rumsfeld would have it), there are expected unexpecteds and then there are unexpected unexpecteds. We will, in the natural order of things, lose our grandparents and then our parents. Teachers. Mentors. We will outlive our pets, unless we own turtles. It doesn't hurt any less at the moment of loss to know that this is the natural order of things, but I think it means that there will be a natural arc to our grief, and it will emerge into an "upside." The upside may be nothing more than the human tendency to learn from experience. What does not kill us makes us stronger precisely because it did not kill us. We get through it, we are reflective beings, we look back on how we got through it, and thus we gain in self-knowledge and emotional depth...and hence, we are stronger.

But you never hear someone say after losing a child, or their entire family in a bombing raid, that it made them stronger. There are deaths that, because they invert the natural order of who-dies-first, or because they pile on top of each other and fresh grief interrupts past grieving, never get processed into stages of grief, or narratives that dip down into dark places and then emerge into upsides. The privilege of living away from war, away from mass urban violence, protected from disease epidemics and the immediate impact of natural disasters, is not that we will never know grief, it is that we will only get to know the grief that we will be able to make sense of.

I write this as I work on a chapter of a book dealing with the first century of Spanish colonization of Mexico. In the annual kerfluffle over Columbus Day, or when Mel Gibson made Apocalypto, it is inevitably suggested that the Spanish conquest wasn't all that different from the Mexica (the group ruled by Moctezuma, commonly referred to today as Aztecs but that's an anachronism) conquest of the ethnic groups of central Mexico in the century prior (or the Inca conquest of the Andes during the same period, or the Maya in Southern Mexico and Central America centuries before). It is true that the indigenous Mexicans practiced ritual warfare and sacrifice; the Spaniards certainly did not introduce warfare or violent death to the peninsula. But --- steel yourself, huge leap here --- these wars, which fit into a religious narrative and had set codes and calendars--made sense to the participants. Families surely grieved for lost loved ones. But it was a grief that made sense, that you worked through and processed and found an "upside". That "upside" may have been quite distinct from the personal narrative of self-discovery and inner strength that Y or I might find today from the deaths of our father or dog. But the point is, the Spanish conquest (especially because of the introduction of epidemics) was that other kind of grief--the kind that "unmade the world," that didn't fit into a "natural order of things" (in quotes because what seemed "natural" to the indigenous Mexicans might in no way seem natural to us now) and thus provided no opportunity for natural recovery, natural resilience, natural narratives. There certainly are, even today, indigenous communities in Mexico that have preserved their language and customs (and, it's worth mentioning, there are historians who challenge the unmaking-the-world narrative of the conquest). But I don't think you'd find too many that look back to the conquest and find an upside.

So the Tigers traded away Austin Jackson today for David Price. Ajax wasn't my #1 favorite player (that would be Victor Martinez, on the current roster) but he was in the top 5. Time will tell which kind of grief this is.

1 comment:

plainlives said...

Just wanted to poke you and let you know that I'm still reading. It's just been a bit tough and hard to explain.