“In a few weeks or months from now perhaps I’ll be jaded again and be engrossed in improving my own life.”
This is a short personal piece that reflects on grief and the process of choosing how to react to a no sense world. For those that aren’t familiar with Kamo no Chomei, he was a medieval Japanese writer (1155-1216) that wrote about his own (imperfect) ways of coping with the political and natural chaos around him.
The tragic world Chomei tried to escape from in medieval Japan is a lot smaller today. Over the past year I have taken solace in reports that suffering and extreme poverty are at historical lows in our human history. Following the Facebook posts of the not so humble Mark Zuckerberg there are moments of hope and elation that progress is being made. Like Chomei often noted about change, these positive feelings are cyclical and temporary. The river keeps flowing and the houses keep burning. The knowledge of good does not diminish the huge amount of suffering that still exists and lately I’ve felt it hard not to be emotionally impacted by world news and readings from my classes. There have been times that the impact of truly empathizing with the experiences of people in historical stories and art have been attractive. I wondered if maybe—just maybe—this practice were widespread then history wouldn’t be so cyclical. And so this semester I decided to try it out, and well, it couldn’t feel worse.
“Feeling bad is not necessarily a bad thing,” says the mini shrink inside my head. Lower lows and higher highs. Through extremes maybe some new insights on life will come to me. Or maybe I’ll break. I’ll disavow in anger the ills of today and focus on cultivating myself. I’ll cry out “society is society’s problem!!” to the silent hills overlooking the Connecticut river. Maybe one of the students at Middlesex Community College will hear me.
The political hatred in the United States, the extrajudicial killings of suspected drug users in the Philippines, the extrajudicial killings of people of color in the United States, the unimaginable bloodshed in Syria, the fear women have on their own college campuses, the hiring of a sexual predator to oversee sexual assault cases at Wesleyan for eight years, the helplessness I feel towards changing anything, the river keeps flowing and the houses keep burning.
In 2007 my family received a so called “reverse 911” call. Actually, all the houses in my subdivision of San Diego received the call. It had been raining ashes for the past few days. We knew what the call would say, yet the disbelief remained. “Evacuate now, those that stay in their home will not be rescued.” We dutifully said our goodbyes to the house and headed South along with one of my classmates to the peninsula neighborhood of Coronado. There we spent the next few days watching the international firefighting effort to save homes. Thousands of homes burned down, but our neighborhood survived. School resumed the next week and I carried on as if nothing happened, the river keeps flowing and the houses stop burning (for now).
The cycles of life dictate the emotional response, and I currently reside in a phase of emotionally connecting to the tragedies in the news and the horrors of past wars in my class readings. In a few weeks or months from now perhaps I’ll be jaded again and be engrossed in improving my own life. Whether I’d prefer that I’m not so sure—and the ambiguity of choosing how to feel in a no sense world has to be one of the hardest choices in life.