Wednesday, March 16, 2011

AFTER SHOCK

In times of great loss, a huge gap must exist between what happens in life and the words that we use to describe these events -- those enormous horrors that rend us alive even as they strip down the small selves we take great pains to build up. All the familiar terms are employed to describe what we think are the wounds that we need to soothe, then embalm: ‘horrible’, ‘tragic’, ‘unbelievable’, ‘shocking’. The TV news anchors, blow-dried and tucked tight, repeat these dark words with a grim kind of relish, morose and dumbfounded, their visage of choice. We mirror their faces. Watch each report with a sigh and head shake. Again, we repeat: ‘terrible’ and ‘so sad’. Onscreen, a town is washed out in a sea of floating white cars, the odd house bobbing in place, a cartoon brought to life. Better, for us, to sigh and then moan; vocabulary tends to diminish such sights. How futile words now become when we’re faced with such truth! A mere linkage of sounds that we utter and mutter; a delusion – that they give adequate form to those feelings that live in our heart’s steady flutters. One might as well belch and then fart and proclaim such gas to be fire. All of it false, these esophogeal attempts at outlining a void.

Not that photos do better, though they certainly try. In TIME magazine, a young woman sits weeping, surrounded by remnants of life itself tossed asunder. All manner of objects, misshapen and bent, encircle her form as her face tells us voyeurs that life offers no hint of a justice for all. One could stare at this picture for days and find nothing that speaks of providential salvation. ‘Humanity’s pain at nature’s indifference’: This could be the bold-printed headline used to sell some more mags, for is nothing more pure than the media’s ravenous need to milk pain for its profit? If it all made us feel better, perhaps I’d be slightly less harsh. Yet we gorge on this display of artistic entrapment, grotesque and well-lit, another’s misery framed for maximum aesthetic pride. Does a secret cheer clap its hands when we witness such pain? I wish it were not so, but I suspect otherwise. Our own empathetic fresh sorrow somehow makes us feel human. We can be in a rut, but feel lifted by pain. Give me more news, shots, glimpses. Guilt that they are not me, that I am safe here, while they are dead there. I can now be aroused.

I retreat to my own sophistries to justify such confusion. Let’s imagine: There is a God up above who watched all this go down. He let it happen, essentially. Thousands are dead, lives dissipated, dissolved. Let’s be specific: A woman has lost her fiancĂ©e for good. Five, six years from now, she will love again. She might even feel again. Out of this union is born a small child. This girl will grow up to become that one gifted doctor who cures cancer for good. Millions will live because of her special gift. Had this tragedy not happened now, in our year of eleven, had her mother’s first love not let go of his life, she would have never been born. Still a notion.

Are twenty thousand lives lost at this moment worth the birth of this child? I wonder. It’s an argument I’ve used twice before in the past: the Holocaust, a necessity; September 11th, mandatory. Ludicrous at its strange core, and blasphemous to boot, but not having much of a faith to consider, I often lay awake in my night and consider a deity’s strange plans.

If we truly can’t know why these events must occur, then we must think of the means to allocate some dimension. Words fail to express anything more than dry comfort food; pictures stir our emotions, activate petty tears. If there must be some lord who looks down on this mess, I prefer to think that a plan is in place, that a baby exists, fifteen years in our future. This child is mere sperm and an egg not yet ripe. A woman has lost all she loves in this world; a nation is torn; nuclear threats hover high. Yet a baby’s fresh spirit is, even now, biding her time in some celestial womb. I can hear her soft confused cries. Not yet, I want to say, to soothe. Not yet. Soon enough you will arrive and destroy that disease that so needs to be gone. The world will rejoice. You will close a circle that began with a sea’s violent rumble.

Silly, I know. A strange kind of gamble, to believe that all this raw horror might give fruit to some joy. I suppose, at root, I can’t process reality. A child’s curse and great gift. An adult must focus on that which is concrete and frail. No time for outlandish odd wishes when life demands more.

And yet.

As a child, walking home from school, from my own certain pine grove, I would grab at the air to catch what we called ‘wishes’, those stray wisps of plant life that first floated, then spun. Do you remember those? Damn, I do. I haven’t seen one of those in a long, long time. Have you? Been even longer since I tried to grab one. Are they still out there? Hovering above all those uneven cracks in the earth? Even there? Especially there? If I should happen to see one of those odd angular shapes drifting through air in the bluest of skies, I will snatch it and hold it and wish, wish, wish.

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