I think it is time to admit that 2010 is not off to a stellar beginning for many, many people. I tried to deny it during the year’s first wobbly, deep-frozen days when recuperating from the holiday season seemed to be the order of things, but it is now the middle of January and I have been staggered by the losses we all have experienced, large and small.
Truth be told, I haven’t been able to properly digest the Haitian earthquake. On the same day of the disaster, my cousin passed away, leaving behind two young daughters and her husband. A few days earlier, she underwent surgery for a worsening, genetic heart condition, but all signs pointed to a full recovery. There was, though, a complication, a complication her body, which had never been fair to her throughout her life, could not recover from, and despite heroic efforts from her team of doctors she didn’t survive. And I have been profoundly sad, ever since.
To write, to say that I am profoundly sad, also means I need to say that I am also totally okay. Perhaps it is the mark of true adulthood to recognize the difference between sadness and grief, because I am not grief-stricken like I have been after other losses. I am cognizant that the people for whom Sarah’s passing most strongly affects are her daughters, her husband, her parents and close friends. She and I only grew to know each other in adulthood, since my mother’s side of the family tends to not get along well, to put the nicest possible spin on it. Thanks to email and facebook and various chat functions I talked with her frequently. We traded recipes, explored family geneaology, visited in person when it was feasible. I still can’t log onto facebook without the deadening realization that she’s not there.
And so, I have been sad, and I walked and worked through my sadness until Friday when I awoke with raging sinuses and a raw throat, and then I slept for two days. During this minor fugue state of mine, I’ve been aware of Haiti – I’ve watched the nightly news, I’ve read online, I’ve looked at S. and said “We have to send money” to which he, of course, agreed. The magnitude of the destruction, though – the sheer horror of the situation – I don’t think it’s fully reached me because every time I see pictures or read stories I am immediately reminded of Sarah, and her daughters, and how sad I am.
One of the things that has been bothering me recently is the way bloggers and tweeters and social media mavens have been treating death. Don’t get me wrong – I think the existence and use of these tools is incredibly helpful, especially in a situation like Haiti -but I’ve also noticed a weird dissonance cropping up. When the actress Britney Murphy died last month, one celebrity blogger who I won’t name put a big picture of her up on his blog and scrawled “Peace Out, Brit” across her face. This is just one example of what I find the appalling treatment of death across these mediums – Ashton Kutcher tweeting some insipid sympathy for her family and fans, as though a friend’s passing doesn’t warrant even fully spelled out words. I don’t often get all intellectual about the meaning of social media – there is nothing worse than a blogger extemporizing about blogging or someone tweeting about twitter – but I do wonder in the fast-paced nature of the mediums are chipping away at our humanity a tiny bit.
It is probably a bit dramatic to think January is going to set the tone for the entire year, that is 2010 is going to be a difficult year just when, collectively, we need a good year, a happy year, a year full of light and laughter, but it is something I half believe.
Today, I’ve had moments of lightness interspersed with sadness. I took a lovely walk with my dog and S. – I had a wonderful cup of lemon tea. I am looking forward to spending time with my brother and his wife tonight. I am paying more attention to the international news , absorbing more of it instead of allowing the images and articles to skip across my consciousness before leaving it altogether. I am thinking buy sympathy cards and start thinking about what the girls might need from you and investigate local efforts for Haiti.
I know I won’t continue to feel as sad as I’ve felt these last several days, and for that I am grateful. But I don’t regret the sadness for a minute because I understand its value. Loss, on whatever scale, reminds us to live our lives fully, to appreciate our loved ones and the privilege we experience, it reminds us to appreciate a perfectly brewed cup of tea, a call from our parents, a hug from a spouse. I believe my life has been lessened by the loss of Sarah, but it has also put proverbial things in perspective – grumbling about my job, complaining about finances – quickly ceased in the face of this news.
Of course, we will all continue to move forward. Sarah’s widow and their daughters will find a way to eventually put one foot in front of the other. Someday, the wreckage of Haiti will be put to right again – it is what we do, as humans – we move forward despite sadness, despite loss, despite despair. It’s that movement that unites us, I think, in many ways – much more so, really, than tweeting and blogging and facebook status updates. I love all of those forums, but in the face of loss they seem insignificant, shallow – they seem less than.