What is grief?
From the moment I received the news, two years ago, that a close friend had passed away, I have felt almost nothing except anger. A sort of nebulous anger at the frailty of bodies, at medicines and operations that work for some and not for others, an unfair anger that enough research hasn’t been performed, that new discoveries haven’t been made.
Mostly, though, I am angry at a world and at communities that protect powerful abusers and ignore those who can’t speak for or protect themselves. I am angry at those who encourage others to remain silent when they’ve been hurt physically and emotionally by the very people who should have been their strongest supporters. I am angry for the sickly, misguided belief systems that promote suffering in silence and submitting to authority without question, systems that marginalize the people who most need help and love and support.
What is grief?
I have had to accept that my friend’s illness was incurable, that despite the doctors’ best efforts, there was very little they could do to slow or stop the progress of her disease. I have learned, like so many of us have had to, that there are limits to what human intelligence and skill can accomplish at this moment in time.
But I refuse to believe that there is a limit to human kindness, understanding and empathy. We don’t need to do more research to learn how to protect those who need our protection. We don’t need to make new discoveries to stand behind those who are being oppressed, no matter what it may cost our reputation or our “image”.
if I’m feeling Baudelaire’s spleen or my own.
the flu the beginnings of mono for the past two weeks. At first I didn’t take it seriously, sort of like when you are babysitting a kid and he keeps yelling for a drink of water after he’s gone to bed and you’re just trying to watch Netflix, and you do what you remember your parents doing and what you have seen all parents doing on television: you yell, “You had one right before bed, sweetie, go to sleep!” Except that he keeps yelling and his voice gets louder and more tearful and you consider calling the parents because maybe he has a rare medical condition that requires a glass of water precisely after he’s been put to bed. And then he appears around the corner of the stairs with a machete and says, “Stop popping the Advil and get into bed, I’m going to make you pay for this.”
I don’t get sick very often so I’m not a good invalid: I get distracted from resting by all sorts of things, like needing to feel clean, needing to have a clean apartment, needing to have clean sheets. But what about the mail I haven’t checked the mail in days. The weather is so nice, taking a ten minute walk surely wouldn’t kill me. I don’t have any food in my refrigerator, I should pop over to the store. And then I’m on my way to work in the morning and I’m standing and feeling faint and it’s so hot and I just have to get out and lean over the railing of the platform and gulp the fresh air in-between trying to rid myself of my breakfast.
“Ma’am,” yells the train conductor, because I was in the first car and he watched me bolt out of it. “Is this a medical emergency?”
“No,” I said miserably, “I just need a drink of water.”
He handed me a bottle of water. “You should go home.”
Go home. Go home. But there is something about being sick that makes resting seem like the very last thing you want to do, because slowing down means you need to take yourself into account, puffy eyes and concave sour stomach and pale jutting cheekbones. You need to take your life into account, all the bits and pieces of pizza and late nights and wine and fun you’ve been having, and how you didn’t listen to your body when it said, Slow down, slow down, because slowing down would have meant a quiet you’re not sure you know how to handle anymore.
And you have to learn to ask for help.
I didn’t take it gracefully or quietly. I took it crying and thrashing, and when the doctor mentioned that if I couldn’t keep food down or if it didn’t get better I’d have to spend the night in the hospital just to be sure, I took a long look at the quiet I’d been avoiding for the past two months.
I’m stubborn, and it’s so easy to believe I’m the exception to a rule: I won’t get sick or injured or heartbroken. I’ve been okay for so long! And Advil! But as I listened to the fan swing overhead and the muffled traffic pass outside my apartment, I heard it: the quiet that says, all of these things will happen, and more, and knowing this will keep you peaceful, it will keep you humble, because you won’t live forever and you must be kind to yourself and others. You are weak, but weak in a way that makes you stronger because you can understand and empathize with others, and give them the benefit of the doubt when you don’t want to believe that they are as weak as you are.
Wolf-Meyer refers to the practice of going to bed at around eleven o’clock at night and staying there until about seven in the morning as sleeping “in a consolidated fashion.” Nowadays, adults are expected to sleep in this manner; anything else—sleeping during the day, sleeping in bursts, waking up in the middle of the night—is taken to be unsound, even deviant. This didn’t use to be the case. Until a century and a half or so ago, Wolf-Meyer observes, “Americans, like other people around the world, used to sleep in an unconsolidated fashion, that is, in two or more periods throughout the day.” They went to bed not long after the sun went down. Four or five hours later, they woke from their “first sleep” and rattled around—praying, chatting, smoking, or making love. (Benjamin Franklin reportedly liked to spend this time reading naked in a chair.) Eventually, they went back to bed for their “second sleep.”
Wolf-Meyer blames capitalism in general and American capitalism in particular for transforming once perfectly ordinary behavior into conduct worthy of medication. “The consolidated model of sleep is predicated upon the solidification of other institutional times in American society, foremost among them work time,” he writes. It is “largely the by-product of the industrial workday, which began as a dawn-to-dusk twelve-to-sixteen hour stretch and shrank to an eight-hour period only at the turn of the twentieth century.” So many people have trouble getting enough sleep between eleven at night and seven in the morning because sleeping from eleven to seven isn’t what people were designed to do.