Grief in the Abstract
I’ve been down this past week without understanding why. Then, someone asked me how I was doing with the situation in India, if I had any affected family members.
I didn’t know how to respond. No one close to me was in imminent danger, yet above and beyond my anxiety for my loved ones, I felt a palpable sense of grief. Every few hours, scrolling through the unending list of WA and FB posts by people desperately searching for oxygen cylinders, for ICU beds — friends of friends, relatives of relatives, all on the brink of losing or having already lost beloved parents, siblings, cousins, and in some cases, their grown children.
It is not just the numbers. It is not the sordid sensationalization by the media mercenarily trafficking in photos for sale of cremations, sacred rites that are the last private moments a family has with the departed one. It is not that which pierces the heart.
It is the way that this virus strips away the civilized veneer we’ve used to sanitize death and rationalize it. This virus tears that to shreds and reduces us to our most vulnerable, primal, animal selves. People are dying because they cannot breathe, because they lack the most basic of all things — oxygen. They are dying waiting for a hospital bed. They are dying alone, isolated in hospital wards. They are dying without the dignity of properly executed last rites.
We grieve because we know that the families left behind will never be the same, because there was never the time or setting for a proper goodbye, because the way they died was so unnecessary and could have and should have been prevented — or so we would like to believe.
In a Chinese family drama that I have been watching, Go Ahead, the main character says that we all have in our lives one moment when we grow up. It could be when we are eighteen years old, it could be twenty years later, but it is some point at which we realize we have left behind the innocence of childhood. A moment of sobriety, of shedding naïveté, of gravitas.
It strikes me that not only individuals but communities and societies, entire generations at a time, also arrive at this moment of adulthood, of losing our collective innocence. Others have confronted war, genocide, the Great Depression. It seems almost trite to say that our equivalent challenge is nothing more than a virus.
And yet, I think this will be a profound turning point in the fullness of time. As a society, we have grown so accustomed to…