Saturday, February 13, 2010
Dealing with Loss
The Universe appears to be presenting me with issues of loss through the arts. In the same week I began reading a book that I have had for over a year titled, Tragic Redemption and I recently went to the Court Theatre and watched a brilliant play titled, The Year of Magical Thinking. Both the book and play deal with human loss, something that if we live long enough we will experience first hand. Rev. Hiram Johnson encountered a tragic loss in his early 20s while driving his car occupied by four friends. A young high schooler he had just met was killed when the car hit a tree. Johnson's story recounts how the acccident plunged him into the depths of despair, depression and guilt. The book recounts his efforts to heal and create a life for himself while forgiving himself. In his instance he used his new found faith in God to do so and accepted the theology of forgiveness and redemption that is available to all who believe. Johnson is now in private practice and I wonder how his experiences allow him to help others. I firmly believe that we cannot lead others where we have not gone ourselves. His experiences have prepared him to journey with others in a myriad of ways!
The play, The Year of Magical Thinking, is based on the book by the same name that the author, Joan Didion wrote after losing first her husband and then her daughter within a short period of time. It is almost incomprehensible that an individual could recover from such loss - and yet she did! The emotional self reflection evidenced in the book and play reveal the inner landscape of a grieving individual who struggles to find meaning, in life without the two individuals that she most deeply loved. She is loathe to indulge self pity which she contends: "...remains both the most common and the most universally reviled of our character defects, its pestilence destructiveness accepted as given." According to Deborah Nelson, Associate Professor at the University of Chicago's Department of English Language and Literature, Didion "Reassessing her attachment to the popular music of her grandmother's generation, she comes to realize that what she thought to be tough-minded optimism was, in fact, emotional self-indulgence." Didion finally concludes, "We are not idealized wild things. We are imperfect mortal beings, aware of that mortality even as we push it away, failed by our very complication, so wired that when we mourn our losses we also mourn, for better or for worse, ourselves. As we were. As we are no longer. As we will one day not be at all."
Perhaps therein lies the real connection, I felt so moved by both Hiram Johnson's and Joan Didion's tragic losses because they could have so easily been mine. And thus I mourned the realization that I/we are always only a moment away from tragedy. A moment away from death. And that there is little we can do but continue to live our lives as fully and richly as possible and embrace death as fully as we embrace life with its rich complexity.
So we fumble and stumble through some days better than others - five steps forward and two backwards. Perhaps today it will be five steps backwards and two forward - hoping there is a tomorrow to get up and begin anew - to wipe away the restless sadness and despair that lurk just around the corners of our days and that the joy will in the end outweigh the loss and sadness of it all.
Whenever I encounter brave individuals like Johnson and Didion I am greedy to learn from them. I breath in their braveness and thank them for their gifts of reflection and insights. For their finding the courage and discipline to will themselves to return to the pain so that others like me might learn from it.
Thank you Rev. Hiram Johnson! Thank you Joan didion for your gifts!
May your journey be eased and may all that is good and sacred in the Universe hold you when you cannot stand and remind you of the love and the good that you are!
Blessed Be! Rev. Q