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January 17, 2015

We live--and die--within a larger picture

Julianne Moore,
Julianne Moore frightens me. I think it's the expression of so much perfection that awes me. First, there's her beauty, the luminescent skin, the flame of her hair, the blue-ice cast of her eyes. Next, the mellow tone of her voice and how each word is exquisitely formed, consonants just right, no over-emphasis. And last, but not least, the love for her family and her calling which comes through that voice. Yesterday, as I listened to an NPR interview with Ms. Moore, I heard all this and something else: wisdom. In her role as Alice in "Still Alice," Moore plays a brilliant woman, wife, and mother with early onset Alzheimer's disease.  You can listen to the interview here. Melissa Block asked Moore if the role had changed her attitude toward aging. Here's part of her answer:

"It's not just about aging, it's about mortality. Aging is about mortality, too. ... In our culture, and lots of cultures, we have this... 'You are as old as you think you are! Forever young! You can do whatever! Fifty is the new thirty!'  (We have) this ...refusal to look at our life cycle."  

I confess that, even when I attend funerals, experience loss, mourn a loved one, I often live that experience without thinking even once about my own future death. It will come, of course. When I do think about this and the end of lives of people I love, I think about how and when death comes.

Syria's Brave White Helmet Civil Defense
In the wake of recent terror attacks in Western Europe and Nigeria, with wars in Syria, Iraq, Russia and the Ukraine, I want to pause a moment before the next post to put this blog's purpose in perspective. Most of us who have posted on this blog come from "lucky countries" and lead fortunate lives, in comparison to many others. Even in our grief, deep and penetrating as it is, we are fortunate. The mother whose child is killed by a bomb, the family who loses home and kin in war, the relatives who mourn students mowed down last month in a school in Pakistan, the Haitians who still mourn those lost in the hurricane 5 years ago....the misfortune, injustice, victimization, and horror that mixes in with their grieving must give their personal and collective pain an intensity that is indescribable. Their lives were/are hard, sometimes nearly impossible. Their grief/deaths will also be.

Our fellow human beings in these circumstances have neither time nor safety to "process" feelings--their rage, grief, sadness, fear, sense of impotency. Refugees cannot stop on their escape route to write in a journal or to express their anguish. That some of us live in a setting where we can do this is a blessing. That blessing, while it does not take grief away, does place our experience of grief within a larger perspective. It makes me think of my grief as a detail in a six-foot-wide landscape painting; my grief is that wisp of cloud behind one of many trees. We will all die. And, too many of our fellow human beings have died/will die in unjust, unjustifiable and violent  ways. They will have cruel deaths, and those who mourn them will be left not only to grieve, but also to face more cruelty, whether it be personal, collective, economic, or circumstantial.

With this post, I hope to remind our readers and writers of the wisdom in Ms. Moore's words. We are all mortal. We are not forever young, whatever tools we may have at our disposal to appear that way. When I grieve, I grieve deeply. Grief marks one forever, but even that grief comes to me in a set of circumstances for which I am humbly grateful. I invite you to share in this gratitude, even as you face grief in various ways in life. I invite all of us to remember those whose grief is indeed harder than our own to bear. In fact, theirs may be a kind of grief that is close to being truly unbearable.

Ms. Moore concluded her interview, saying that knowing one's life has an end means that:
" start to value what you have even more. You value the present. You're never more in love with life than in the presence of your own mortality...You think about how much you love to live, how much you love the people you love. What do you value? Who do you value? What do you want to do? In a sense, it makes everything ... crisper, sharper, and more vital."


This blog's next post will be Tasha Raella Chemel's "The Solidarity of the Vulnerable," an insightful piece on the grieving process. I hope today's post prepares you, honorable reader, for the one to come, in the sense that this post makes a case for the fact that even the opportunity to process pain is a blessing. Yes, the pain hurts. Sometimes we think and feel that grieving can break us. I know I have thought and felt this. Still, in the midst of our personal grief, we need to remember not only that our own lives are made crisper and more vital by our own mortality, and yes, even the mortality of those we love, but we also do well to remember the lives of others who are not given real opportunity to survive, thrive, or express even the pain in their hearts. May we always have space, even in our own landscape of grief, to be aware of those who live this burden, and send them love and light.

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