Posted by: terrapraeta | August 21, 2009

The Politics of Grief


In the arms of an angel
fly away from here
from this dark cold hotel room
and the endlessness that you fear
you are pulled from the wreckage
of your silent reverie
you’re in the arms of the angel
may you find some comfort there
you’re in the arms of the angel
may you find some comfort here

Sarah McLachlan, Angel

My friend Dave over at How to Save the World, writes often of his overwhelming sense of grief for Gaia. When he reads about the horrible devastation wrought in Alberta by the Tar Sands Project, thinks of the species going extinct every day, environmental disasters one after another, climate change, and so on and so forth. For anyone with a strong sense of empathy, the amount of sheer pain in the world as our civilization wreaks havoc in its death throws is more than one can bear.

I have addressed this subject with him a few times in various ways. The uselessness of allowing yourself to be overcome when it leaves you paralyzed to act. Different ways to approach the feelings to turn them to positive action. Acknowledging your grief and moving past it. Having experienced my own empathic growth pains, I find it hard to be… less than sympathetic, yet today I am going to take a slightly more harsh approach to this topic.

Grief is a fundamentally selfish emotion. When someone we love dies, we don’t feel grief because we think they’re worm food, or that they have gone to hell. We try to comfort ourself with some variation on “they have gone to a better place” — whatever our theology tells us that place might be. But this does not actually alleviate the grief because what we are actually grieving for is ourselves. How much less our lives will be without the presence of this person. How we will never see them again, touch them, be touched by them, share a laugh, a smile, a moment in time. Empathic grief is a little different, as we ourselves have not lost a connection, rather we are identifying with, or channeling, the loss felt by others. (To be fair, empathetic grief is also harder to overcome, in that there is no process – all one can do is shut it off, assuming one knows how.)

I was talking with a friend the other day about the imminent collapse of civilization-as-we-know-it. I made some comment about hopefully, it will happen before too many species die. Then I had to correct myself… really, all that I really mean by that is that I don’t want those species that i am accustomed to, that I am used to seeing, or at least truly aware of to stop being here. Of course, I understand the nature of ecology and that extinctions cascade and so forth. But the point was that I couldn’t really claim to be concerned, on an emotional level, with that which I have no personal knowledge of. Cold? Perhaps. Honest? Always.

So what is the point of all this? Is Gaia greiving for her lost children? Maybe. I have never felt it. Because her children die and are reborn all the time. It is the circle of life. Right now, the circle is moving fast… perhaps faster than it ever has since the Oxygen Holocaust. But life will prevail. I know this. I have faith.

And life is really all that matters.

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