Monday, February 7, 2011

The Journey

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.


jeanette from everton terrace said...

Very timely for me. I've spent the last week in bed with the flu and sinus infection. Still not feeling great, in fact the antibiotics are kind of making me feel sick but thinking a week is long enough so I'm up. I'll take it slower and be patient. How long do you expect the grieving process to last? Seriously? Wow.

Reya Mellicker said...

My boss was a nice guy but had never lost a family member. He just didn't get it.

Yeah, that thought form "A week is enough," yeah. What does that mean? According to whom? Hope you're soon on the mend!

Reya Mellicker said...

I agree Ellen.

Vicki said...

This post speaks to me this morning. Healing I think is an on going process. Emotionally is usually the way for me. But no matter how much time goes by the sadness of a lost one is still there.

Reya Mellicker said...

Yes, I still grieve the loss of my sister, but it isn't raw anymore, or raging. It is rounded, softer, shining. And the way I miss her makes me a better person - now - didn't use to!

glnroz said...

i think reading is medicinal,,,will you write again tomorrow?

Reya Mellicker said...

Glenn, the problem with me is getting me to STOP writing. Sheesh!!

Merle Sneed said...

The old Protestant work ethic will be the death of us all.

Jo said...

YOU BET. So great!

I also believe that we should breath the beauty of words and art and music into our souls, but I never thought of how important it is to the healing process.

And yet, I look back on a few rare experiences I've had with illness or loss, and see in retrospect how large a part it played.

American businesses have never been at the forefront of enlightenment, have they? I am not surprised at your former boss' comment. A little disgusted, but not surprised.

Jo said...

*breathe* Sorry.

Reya Mellicker said...

When my boss said that, I burst into tears. I said, "I can't believe you just said that," and left his office. He looked so surprised - and confused. He was a good guy who had no experience of losing a family member. How could he have known?

robin said...

Yep, sadly being a good guy isn't enough to keep ya from banging yer head into a wall!

Mary Ellen said...

What a wonderful insight as to why we weren't ready for Adler until now.

Reya Mellicker said...

Robin - yep. BTW I heard a robin singing today for the first time this season. Thought of you, of course!

debra said...

We are a culture of deniers and immediate gratify-ers (I think I made up that word), so of course we can't let things take time. When I lost both my parents, people asked if I was over it yet, like a cold. When I had pneumonia, my doctor also was surprised that I was going to take time to heal. Pretty crazy stuff.
People always ask how long it took us to complete a piece of art, as if that is an important part of the value of the piece. The true answer to this question, is that it took my entire life, because I bring all my experiences up to now to this point in time.

Piet Hein, the author of Grooks, wrote
Put up it a place
Where it's easy to see
That cryptic admonishment
When you feel how depressingly
Slowly things climb
It's good to remember

Blessings to you, Reya---and hoping this made sense :-)

steven said...

healing's a lifelong journey ... and then some! there's stuff we're healing from that has its roots in a very long time ago place. i've always wondered about the placing of a time limit on any kind of healing. we all know it makes no sense. we all know that all on its own that leads to the need for even more healing. it's so strange and unfortunate. steven

Pauline said...

I wish people with your ideas trained both doctors and bosses!

Val said...

i love coming here and i htink i recognise that tree? i am getting to know your neighbourhood :) what an excellent idea, to include beauty in the necessary order of healing. Whenever I feel sad, or want it to rain, or lose someone, i love to plant a tree.

sorry but people who have flu should stay home and not spread it around to everyone else - but i suppose not everyone can?

thanks Reya

Reya Mellicker said...

Yes, Val, you definitely have seen pictures of this tree in every season. I LOVE this tree, so graceful, yet huge.

I agree about the flu. Stay home, get well. It's just common sense.

Natalie said...

I am all for beauty. Should be sucked in daily, hourly at the VERY least! Everyday, not just when we are ill. We are blessed to be living in such a beautiful world. Suck it in, I say!

Reya Mellicker said...

Natalie, of course you're right!

Karen said...

I'm just catching up here after being away from blog-reading for a couple weeks (!! :( ) but I wanted to say that I've thought and wondered about the issue of Americans (in general) not taking time to heal. I wonder if it's in part the desire to pretend we're invulnerable--that we don't want to admit the human body and psyche can be harmed. Pretend it's not that bad, get back to your regular routine, don't think about it too much and it will go away. Then, of course, as you say, we don't learn what's available to us in the illness or trauma... It's a loss we don't even reckon.

I like the idea of welcoming beauty into the final stages of healing. I know that when my migraine pain goes away it's like I see everything in a new way; the beauty of the world around me, especially if it's a sunny day, is just stunning. :)

Glad to be back to reading you here; it's like hearing your voice, which is quite nice. :)

And P.S. that elephant in the Natural History museum is an old friend. Last summer he greeted me warmly when I brought my 5-year-old niece to meet him. :) :)

Karen said...

OH! and P.P.S. one of my graduate school advisors actually suggested that I return to teaching 2 weeks after having a baby. (He was a single man at the time; later, after he got married & his wife had given birth a couple times, he realized how ridiculous that idea was!)