Monday, February 7, 2011
The way we live right now in the U.S. at the launch of the new millenium is so crazy in so many ways. One of our cultural values that is truly screwed up, in my opinion, is the way in which we view healing. It's supposed to be instantaneous whether the wounding is emotional, physical or spiritual. Our cultural value around being wounded is to just get over it as soon as possible.
I never thought about the fact that in many American businesses, standard bereavement leave is three days - that is - until my sister died. It was then that I began to wonder what the hell you're supposed to do in three days to get over a loss like that. When I returned to work, still (of course!) prone to tears, my boss actually asked me, "How long do you expect the grieving process to last?" Bloody hell.
Physical illness, too, is something that "should" be discarded as soon as possible. When I had pneumonia a few years ago, my M.D. (a wonderful doctor) said, "Can you wait three days before going back to work?" I had pneumonia!! When I told her I was going to get into bed, let the antibiotics do their job, and return to work after I was healthy again, she actually said, "Thank God!" I bet she doesn't hear that too often.
It's so bizarre.
Tragedies, loss, illness - all of these very universally human experiences - can bring insight, wisdom and strength if, that is, we're willing to give them some attention, if we're willing to be patient with these realities, to notice how they change us rather than shoving them aside as soon as possible.
I'm thinking about this today because I'm entranced with the book, The Journey by H.G. Adler. He survived the Holocaust even in spite of spending time in at least three concentration camps. He was a writer. He wrote poetry in Auschwitz. Yeah, crazy, huh? After the war, he wrote twenty-six books of philosophy, poetry and fiction, all about the Holocaust. He had a hard time getting his books published because making art out of the Shoah was seen as obscene.
Of course it was. For the first few decades after the war, the healing from that terrible event had barely begun. Hardly anyone could face the idea of creating beauty out of that. H.G. Adler knew what he had to do, though.
Now a handful of his books have been translated into English, The Journey among them. What a book. Wow.
I have often said to clients that the final stages of healing should include beauty. When I was recovering from pneumonia, first my lungs opened up; the physical symptoms disappeared. Next I became bored, but before I went back to work I spent a long afternoon at the National Gallery, gazing at beautiful paintings, breathing in the beauty as it were.
I believe that in order to be fully healed, the emptiness that follows illness and loss can and should be filled with beauty. Not too soon, though. The fact that I have this book in hand, that I can read H.G.'s work, means to me that the black hole of the Holocaust is indeed unwinding. It's so great, isn't it? Yes? I say yes.