I have tried many times to write another piece about what is happening in America today only to fail in delivering anything remotely cogent or meaningful. I keep trying to analyze it all in an effort to make peace with the insanity, death and destruction that I witness. Anything short of that has left me feeling helpless, struggling to accept the utter devastation that is occurring right in front of our faces.
Ultimately, I have come to the conclusion, albeit temporary, there’s no sense to be made of what is occurring right now. Like the mythic Tower of Babel that God strikes down, forcing different languages on humanity, so too have we been struck incomprehensible to one another. Given this failure to communicate, it is the emotional and ultimately spiritual space that is the most appropriate place for my heart to reside.
Lately I’ve been re-reading Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning, a phenomenal depiction of humankind’s struggle to plumb the depths of one’s soul to survive extraordinary circumstances. While the current Pandemic and decimation of American society and political institutions can’t be compared to the Holocaust in any literal way, there are parallels to its “helpless/hopeless” effects on our psyches, as well as promise on how to endure it all with less damage.
PROVISIONAL EXISTENCE OF UNKNOWN LIMIT
It has become quite trendy in recent years to meditate, to practice living in the now, worthy practices to slow the mind and energy systems from the frenetic pace of modern life. A tension presents itself of course when one resumes daily activities that focus instead on some measure of future: Goals, activities, deadlines, etc. Without some aspect of ‘later’ or an endpoint, even if it’s a simple future orientation such as what to have for dinner, we are hard pressed to stay only in the now indefinitely.
With the pandemic we have lost a recognizable endpoint, a goal or destination of it being over, with a return to life as we have known it. In the Holocaust, prisoners lost all reference to the future or any endpoint. Similarly, though monumentally far from being as degrading as concentration camps, pandemic populations know not when any recognizable endpoint will occur. There’s always the tease of one, yet the infections rage on. Further, the chaotic and degraded democratic institutions and structure in America at this time makes nothing reliable. Nothing.
Added to this dynamic is the disconnection of physical presence with others—particularly painful for pack animals such as humans. We know we are not alone yet feel alone regardless. Besides this psychic chasm, we struggle with an altered concept of time. Purpose for and faith in some goal or intention, has to be reimagined. Is it even possible for humans to not strive for something? And in what timeframe? Without these instruments from which to steer by, life seems rudderless and a kind of moroseness or depression sets in.
Frankl’s wife, imagining, remembering her without even knowing whether she was alive or dead in another camp became his salvation, at least in part. But it was more than her. It was the field of Love in which she resided that he cultivated access, to make it through the days, through the smallest and largest degradations of daily survival. A different perspective, a deeper one, was identified on which to focus, a new horizon from a different vantage point on which to set one’s eye.
A few years ago I had the astonishingly good fortune to meet and work with Bennet Mermel on his memoir, an extraordinary man who survived the Holocaust himself. I witnessed first hand the field of Love—the goal or drive to help his younger brother, Kalvin, to stay alive as well. By trying to save Kalvin’s physical life, Bennet also helped save his own. It was a symbiosis that fueled surviving a horrific “now”, driven by suffering yet with a dignity that defied comprehensive description.
Yet there was still depression. Besides staggering constant physical exhaustion, depression was the emotional current that constantly served as undertow, threatening to suck him under due to death and degradation that was pervasive in the camps. Had Bennet not had Loves’ compass for his brother to steer by, he may never have made it. The magnet was challenged constantly by the sheer magnitude of a sense of no end in sight. Still, it was the engine that kept him going.
I was very heartened by the fact that Michelle Obama and Michael Phelps have recently addressed the problem of depression and mental health issues consequent to the pandemic and the breakdown in our society. In many ways a sorrow for loss is the most appropriate response. Like losing a limb, one cannot help but feel sad for the absence of the thing itself, but more importantly for the value and use that predictability and hope heretofore provided to one’s life.
To share that sorrow with a wider audience is huge. It feels personal, intimate, communicating we are not alone in what we witness and feel. It recognizes our shared humanity and binds us together, exhausting out grief to arrive at the other side. Ultimately, we are left to acknowledge it, to discover our own compass and help others find theirs if at all possible. For while we may not perceive an endpoint to the pandemic, let alone imagine how to rebuild America, life continues and is made better in the process. On the other side of grief is an acceptance that facilitates a language all its own: a non-Babel speak that connects us all.
Rosalie Cushman is the author of several books, The Man Confused By God and Vibrating At The Speed Of Love. They are available on Amazon and at fine bookstores everywhere.
The Man Confused By God https://www.amazon.com/dp/1733802320/ref=cm_sw_r_em_tai_wAyoFbRKCWEQT
Vibrating at the Speed of Love https://www.amazon.com/dp/1733802304/ref=cm_sw_r_em_tai_3ByoFbX6ER6QT