Eek! I did it again. I actually burst into tears watching reality television (X Factor, my one “reality” fix and only because of reasons I went into on earlier posts). Live angst… I mean beyond angst… the poor girl (only fourteen which is what made it so incredibly heart-wrenching) literally crumbling to the ground upon hearing that she was the one to “go home,” her sobs the realest of real.
Now this was not my favorite character (because really, folks, they are characters), mostly because I found her to be fake cutsey in the way those pageant girls are, all disney squeaks and sparkly eyes and knee-knocking poses. Nonetheless, I truly believe that her pain was real, and it was excrutiating to watch. Horrible. It made me hate not only the show (and the star system) that put her there but also myself, and all of us who somehow found entertainment in that dreadful moment.
What strikes me is that as a nation we prefer our pain at a distance, we seek it neatly packaged and sanitized. Like heat-sensing missiles we entrust our “news” organizations and popular media to ferret out the agony, the down-and-out stories with their redemptive finales, the suffering of others. Give us a mudslide, a tsunami, a famine and we will shed our tears, our hearts aching, but then *click*… we turn our backs and go on with our lives.
As humans this is natural, regrettably. There has always been a fascination with watching the human drama, whether in the gladiator’s ring or in the gossip bench in the town square. My mother once told me that people love you when your life is difficult, but not as much when things are going well. I don’t think she meant it in a cruel or cynical way, just a recognition that we love to see others suffer, whether because it makes us feel better about our own lives, or at least makes us believe we are not alone in our sorrows, our weaknesses.
But there is a difference. Like the screen which protects us from the devastation, in modern society we expect a similar veil when it comes to others’ problems, and they from ours. Lose a parent, lose a child, and you will see the visceral discomfort others have when they speak with you, as if they can’t wait to run away. We listen to their words but expect them to mollify their descriptions somewhat, to allow us a bit of a distance so that we can embrace them, offer our support, wish them well and call them in a week or so.
It’s not our fault. We’re raised in little bubbles where we are often separated from the real reality of life. It takes a village… in this case to share, truly share our lives with others. Unless you live in the same town you were born in and have a large family still living there, chances are you’ve not lived through much of the nitty gritty of life, and when you do graze its shores it can be quite a shock, especially when it is in isolation.
I love that people are writing honestly about such things. Christopher Hitchens writes about what it’s like to be dying with often brutal honesty. Joan Didion and Joyce Carol Oates write with eloquence and rawness about losing loved ones. Add to that a million unknown people who share their stories of caring for parents, for children, of dealing with lost pregnancies and chronic illnesses. I admire their honesty, for when faced with life stripped of its silken gown how comforting it can be to sit with someone who is also naked, whose thoughts and feelings are equally stripped of pretense.
Had you lived in that little village (does it even exist still, here?) the challenges of life are shared. Birth, death, sickness, health, love, marriages, wins and losses are just part of the broad scheme of life. There is no choice not only to experience your own life’s joys and sorrows, but to experience those of others, and in doing so they are demystified, natural, their rituals right.
I understand rituals now. Eschewing them, even denying their relevance and import for so many years. I understand how sharing, truly sharing, the lives of others better prepares us to face similar challenges in our own lives, however difficult that may be.
On a similar note…tied by tears and emotions and the import of life and the joy within it, my friend Brynne wrote this week a blog post which was so very moving, with a video that I clicked on (and you should too…as soon as you finish reading my post), fully planning on stopping midway because I was so very busy, but which I ended up watching to the end. It left me in tears. Eek. Again. For one who rarely cries, twice in one week is just—epic. And no, I’m not…