I love to read about tragedy- this is not new but I have recently realized what that means. I love stories of grief and loss, I love looking at someone going through extraordinary suffering and how they cope. I find in the moments of loss and despair we show ourselves. We are willing to say who we are, we notice that in light of enormous amounts of pain the small stuff doesn’t matter. The details and the facade of life get stripped away and what we are left with is raw and true and real. I love this unpolished life, this truth. I love that when I am reading these stories or watching these types of TED talks, I cry. Tears stream down my face about someone I will probably never know. I find that the culture around me does not seem to understand sadness, it doesn’t seem to have a place. Oftentimes it is not seen as appropriate or even necessary but rather as a sign of weakness. I firmly disagree I feel sadness is necessary and feeling that sadness provides us with a better understanding of the world and how we think of it. All emotions are necessary and there for a reason to help us understand the world and connect to one another not to shy away from and avoid.
When reading or listening to people talk about tragedy, I feel their feelings, I see their love mixed up with their grief. Someone once told me grief takes the place that love was. We grieve because we care, because we love. There is beauty in the pain, beauty in coping with tragedy. It is hard and messy and flawed, but so are we all and in a way grief brings stark contrast to the parts of our lives the things that matter and the things that don’t.
I think it is too easy to get caught up in the facade, the trimmings and not to dig deep and see what is underneath, what is real? I struggle with this myself and sometimes cannot identify if it is what I want or is it just part of the picture of what I am supposed to have or what it is supposed to look like? It can be easy to spend time chasing the picture rather than seeing the truth. The thing is, we are not assured the picture. The image is not real and mostly it serves to distract us from the reality, to placate, to make our striving seem worthwhile. I am not saying that hard things and striving are to be avoided, but I think we need a clearer understanding that the picture may not be any better. It may be the same. It may look new and shiny but we as humans adjust. An old psychological study from 1978 looked at lottery winners and paralyzed accident victims. Within a year they both were at the similar levels of self reported happiness. This study is often used to indicate how easily we absorb new circumstances. We like to think that big changes will fix everything and make us happier, and for a short while they do, a few weeks or months, but eventually we take them for granted and our happiness level returns to what it was. After reading Why Buddhism is True by Robert Wright, I realized our evolution necessitates this. We would not exist if happiness was a permanent state. If we enjoyed a food and that happiness stayed with us, we would never seek food again. If sex provided a permanent state of happiness, we would not mate repeatedly and our species would cease to exist. We need happiness to be limited so we will want to continue living. Each time our happiness occurs at lower and lower levels. This may account for why the first bite of ice cream is delicious but the last is not nearly as exciting. Conversely unpleasant experiences stick with us because they could lead to death, we remember close calls and things that go wrong so as not to repeat them. Knowing this leads us to wonder then what is the point of it all, what do we do? Robert Wright would answer that meditation helps, I would agree, but I also think we need to be aware of our why. Why are we doing this? What do we really want? Why are we actually unhappy? Is a new car really going to fix that? When it comes to a why of life, that is personal. I have found mine through time, research and contemplation. The why keeps me going, helps me see what I am doing in service of it and how my life is changing because of it.