LEARNING SOME LIFE LESSONS: Grief
By William Olkowski 6.2.12/7.25.12
Well this morning I am going to take on my current main daily subject: grief. The take will be conceptual rather than emotional although the emotional is the stronger, especially right now. That’s because grief can overwhelm the senses including the so called sixth sense of conceptualization. Some people think the sixth sense is telepathy which is a lot of fun to think about. Fun is great, if you can find it, in yourself and others. But the evidence for telepathy is rather weak, if there is any good evidence at all.
At dinner last night I met up with 8 other grievers in a group run by volunteers here in Santa Barbara. There were 5 men and 4 women. Nobody talked about the main thing on their minds, or better under their minds. Listening to other people’s grief stories makes ones own less important. There are some people who are marvelous in their reactions to such terrible things my heart goes out of itself in sympathy, but that is hard to share.
One exception was the guy next to me, who made a comment about a Greek movie he had recently seen which explored a great range of the emotion contrasting grief in the young and an older new teacher. These representative groups were of younger students who lost their teacher and the new teacher who was also feeling the heat too, but the kids gradually learn about his experiences as the drama develops. I imagine both peoples grew through their particular experiences. I don’t want to see the movie. I don’t need to wallow right now, maybe another day. I look for uppers, especially if I am going to use some time to relax and enjoy.
Through his comments, I thought, hey, this guy is something special and probed further. And so it turned out. But from his comments about the movie critics who paned the movie I thought further. He says the critics were too critical, and had overlooked the special aspects of an excellent drama. His explanation for why the critics were so critical was that they were just young people who had never yet experienced grief. That seemed to be the only common agreement the group seemed willing to acknowledge. And I wondered.
I can’t be so dogmatic and want to see what that idea contains. Well, the young and the old have different views, and our society seems hell bent on separating the two social groups, mostly by default. Me, I had grandparents living close for a time in my early youth and that was important to me. One grandparent certainly complained rather regularly, about infirmaries. And we had lived very close in the same building for my earliest years, up to about age 4. I liked my grandmother because she liked me, mostly, and paid attention. Boys had it good in such immigrant groups, maybe in all groups. That’s another topic.
Plus she used to cook up these giant meals at different holidays. I loved to eat and still do, but that in itself is not a great accomplishment. She was an old Polish woman of stocky build with bad legs. Legs seem especially important to her, maybe it’s an old age thing, so I thought. I may have been right about that even as a young boy, but with my aging and now leg hurts, maybe its a family thing.
In our society the young and old don’t live together and so the worlds don’t cross very much and consequently the important experiences don’t pass from one group to the other. My view of the oldies was they seemed depressed and slow moving, although there seemed to be times of joy. No wonder the two groups diverge. Who wants depression, especially as a steady diet?
Today I feel very different about that viewpoint from my youth. I have met many younger people than I, by many decades, who seem very sympathetic and that is a great discovery. But the element of truth is that grief is certainly highly specific to each person, yet all will eventually experience it. So why not learn something about it. Maybe this is a good subject for schools. Oh, well, we load up our schools with so many desires, no wonder they fail. Or do they? The kids seem to learn in spite of the schools, but many do not. Maybe that can be fixed someday.
Here, my view of life may diverge again from the common experience since I have had a great exposure to the youth of many different species, particularly insects, but also chickens, rabbits, sheep, and donkeys. Learning about insects is an odd personal feature which arises regularly enough to stun me. It must be odd for others who know so little about most of the species on the planet. All the hatching egg masses I have seen never hatch 100%. So, some of every new generation is lost almost just out of the chute.
And so it is with people, too. In our compassion for suffering, which is an admirable trait, I think we go too far. Nature creates losses all along the life span. Loss is part of living. We must learn this and maybe its part of why religions developed and persist. Anyway I am always wondering about how and why such silly institutions persist amidst the greatest growth in human knowledge ever seen. The stories religions tell are so unbelievable it’s hard to see their relevance to today. And why they conflict with modern learning is a great grief. But that’s another side trip and a different kind of grief.
The main religions of today seemed to have been fixed thousands of years ago. So to understand them one must go back in time. An intimate exposure to history can always be good, i.e., learning history, right? Well I wonder about that too. In fact I am wondering about a great many things now. Maybe that’s one good thing about loss and grief. It certainly makes one hold up and think.
Well, thinking is always a good idea as long as one can make the time. Thinking, however, can be very faulty. In grief a thought could be seized like a life saver, good for a time, essential for a time, but to live in a life saver is not possible. And thinking is needed to build and repair. I think grief is like a wound, with its own kind of scab.
And it’s a bad idea to keep poking a wound. The analogy seems most apt. The question remains however, about how to make healing possible, continuous, and healthy. Certainly other people, especially friends, play a big part. Younger friends most likely will certainly outlive you? So how to get their attention so the old elephant can pass on the knowledge of the water holes so the whole group can find water in the drought. Maybe grief is a path between the old and young? That’s an operational idea, now for me. I will keep you posted.