Ya know, in general, I think I’m a pretty happy, positive person. I want to be like that. Also peaceful, calm and occasionally insanely silly. I did have a wicked period of postpartum depression after my first child was born and a bout with post-traumatic stress syndrome when Jim had heart surgery at 31. Okay, but I’m a pretty happy person, I think. I’ve noticed now that since I’m a widow, if I get started crying about something, I can go on leaking for hours. Now, could this be due to my new agenda of trying to face the reality of the world honestly? The truth is the truth hurts. Suffering exists in the world. Various coping strategies and religions exist primarily to soften the blow of that blunt piece of honesty. I am trying to be open, and it leaves me vulnerable. Ouch. It felt better to be Polyanna.
What to do about the responsibility and challenge to look deeply into the suffering of the planet, to become aware of the failures of systems and cultures, of relationships and communication from the large-scale to the intimate? I feel sad about the truth. Can I call this righteous depression? Is this deep or simply pathological?
I am suddenly reminded of one of my life stories. My sister and I were in a car accident when I was 17 and she was 20. She was driving, and flipped the car at 80 miles per hour on the Interstate. We were transported in an ambulance together to the Lincoln, NE hospital. I was aware that they had been doing CPR on her the whole time with no response. I had seen her covered in blood slumped next to me in the car before I was extricated from it. I was in shock, but I was able to comprehend what was going on. The hospital has policies about who can release information to patients, though, and everything must be done according to protocol. So I found myself in an examining room with a nurse. I had been checked out and aside from a bump on the head and some cuts, I am fine. I know that my sister is not fine. A nurse comes in and sits in the chair in the corner and says something about how they’re also examining my sister. “It’s very bad,” she says, looking worried and vague, but directly at me. “It’s just very bad.” I felt like she was trying to talk to me in code or something. She wanted to say something specific, but she couldn’t. Instead, she just kept repeating how bad it was. Was this supposed to prepare me for something? Or was it supposed to fill me with a sense of doom and dread? I realize she was probably a very sympathetic woman who felt terrible at being in the position of not having more comforting things to say or even more authority to speak the truth. The result was just….awkward. What do I do with this? I suppose I could put her out of her misery and say, “It’s okay. I’ve guessed that she’s dead. I will deal with it. I have a plan.” Honestly, this is what I want to do in these situations. I want to take responsibility and make everyone around me feel better. Then I suppose I can feel righteously depressed. It’s bad; it’s very bad, but I am going to try to do the right thing.
There are some very seriously bad things happening around us. Global climate change, deforestation, greenhouse gases, ozone depletion, drought, famine, economic devastation, war, oppression and domination, political atrocities, nuclear poisoning, chemical poisoning, racial hatred, bullying, on and on and on. How much of this can I be open to? What if I bit off just a tiny portion and tried to chew on that only, to save myself from being overwhelmed? What if I tried to absorb the totality and sank into a dark depression? What do we do with deep sadness? Share it? Ignore it? Fight it? Meditate? I’m open to suggestions.