C.S. Lewis wrote in A Grief Observed (which was started as a personal journal of his grief over the loss of his wife, but was eventually published) that grief feels like fear and it makes you lazy. He also observed how pervasive it is, that it's "like the sky" because no matter where you go and what you do, there it is. As he didn't have children of his own (his wife had one from a previous marriage), and because it was his wife he lost and not a child, he wasn't able to observe that losing a child alters your priorities as much as having one does. Perhaps because he didn't return to the work to say so, it's also true that you eventually begin to crawl out from under the false sky and find the real world again.
But, as with all life passages, you carry some permanent marks from it. I was afraid my sense of humor had been permanently damaged, for one. It appears to be intact for the most part, but it still doesn't boot up as quickly as it used to. Some of the dark humor that twentysomethings find funny in their movies and songs now strikes me as simply childish and annoying. The disregard I see people display toward each other moves me to anger more quickly than it used to; some poltroon observed on the comments to a thoughtful post on religion on another blog that people who are religious are that way because of "a character flaw." I can't imagine what kind of an asshole that person must be in real life.
TLD: Neither the blog or the comments ever supposed that religion stems from the members believing that the events that gave rise to their beliefs actually occurred as described; that Jesus really walked the earth, for instance. It was just assumed it was an organic thing that arose from an evolutionary need or some other function of the machine we call our bodies, as if we were merely tubes of chemicals that react to catalysts. It amazes me that people can observe their own consciousness, but then turn right around and disregard it as an entity unto itself and downgrade it to, for all practical purposes, an assembly of legos, strings, motors, and a computer chip or two - particularly when they contemplate someone other then themselves (because of course they give themselves a little more credit than they do all the other poor schmoes around them). Has the whole "intellectual" world dissolved into solipsism and post-modern bullshit? (I am increasingly of the opinion that perhaps one of the most evil ideas unleashed upon the world is post-modernism, because it really does preach that everyone is the anti-Howard the Duck and we all live in the world WE, our own little selves, have created. The first creep back towards the ovens of Auschwitz is the downgrading of everyone around you to just another program in your Matrix, Coppertop.)
But then, many things are more dear, too. Way too dear, sometimes. I've always had a soft spot for the elderly. Now that I approach the terminal that will fly me to the hub that connects to the hub that leads to old age, I empathize with them even more. When I watch a bent little old lady or old man make their way to their car, the handicapped parking spots just don't seem close enough. To imagine they were once as clear-eyed and strong as I am now, but now are exhausted by a single trip to the grocery store, just breaks my heart. The few, minor indignities of aging that I currently face are nothing compared to that. I know we typically grow happier and more content as we age (I can personally attest to that), and I know that the very octogenarian I describe above will often flash you a beaming smile if you say hello, but still, it's daunting to contemplate being that age.
My father-in-law, who's a medical doctor, observed that he sees two kinds of people at the end of life: those who are carrying every slight, every insult, and all the pain they've ever experienced, and those who have found a way to put down their baggage. I can see why we all should strive to be the latter.
So, how to go about it? Especially after something goes terribly wrong?
Well, if you believe in God, specifically if you're a Christian, you can give a lot of it to God. But, since most Christians already know that, and everybody else just rolls their eyes when they hear it, I'll not belabor that here. Those of you in the club know how valuable this is.
A practical daily approach is to search out joy. To purposely hunt for fun. When something bad has happened, what is now fun may be different from what it used to be. In a way, it's an opportunity to renew your life. You aren't necessarily starting over, but certainly the time has come to have a fresh look at everything.
For instance, my approach to literary novels is completely different. I used to have the patience to read them in their entirety even when they committed most of the sins that current literary novels do. Now I chuck'em early and often. Life's too damn short to be bored by a narcissist with a leaden tongue.
When "Friends" signed off, I no longer had any scripted TV shows that I watch. I've tried to get interested in new ones, even some of the new nifty sci-fi-esque ones that appeal to my tastes. I don't know what it is, but I'm usually so far ahead of the writer, or they are depending too much on my being rapt in the spell of a pretty young face, I can barely make it to the second commercial break. It's an open secret that the television industry will not hire writers above the age of 40, thinking they are automatically out of touch and will not attract younger viewers, which to the blinkered money men are the sole reason TV exists. I think that's the crux of the problem for me. I no longer am pining after the hot babe, because she's sitting next to me on the couch already. I don't want to see gratuitous baby/child in peril plots written by someone who obviously doesn't have children; they simply don't understand what they're dealing with. I'm not a cop, or a lawyer, or a doctor, or (dear Lord) a forensic pathologist (how did that icky profession become such a TV mainstay?), so those worlds don't particularly interest me. I don't want shows about God that purposely ignore Judeo-Christianity (they're like a balloon with no air in it). Get some grownups out there!
We got my daughter a guitar, and my wife and I have to negotiate who gets to pluck around on it when she's done practicing. When I was younger and had daydreams of being a rock star, I took lessons for about a year. I abandoned them because I noticed that what had happened to me with literature was about to happen with music. When you become enough of an expert in the mechanizations of an art form, your pleasure is somehow compromised by your inner voice noticing a clunky sentence in the middle of a good story, or a bad brush stroke in a painting, or a bad note in a song. Your expertise jades you and you can never experience that art form in a pure sense again. I didn't want to lose the innocent and visceral experience I have with music, and end up sniffing at some songs on the radio because they were so simple, like I've heard every music major I've even known do.
However, now, especially since corporate monopolies have squashed the music industry (radio and retail) into irrelevance, I'm not so concerned about picking out the chords of a tune, and commenting to myself that there might have been a better choice. I'm ready to be tainted. Perhaps it will be a new way into music, since commercial radio is ruined for now.
So, one of the ways I'm putting down the baggage of life is by picking up a guitar. And books that are fun, not dull. Continuing to point out to rude atheists that they're not as smart as they think they are. Watching the rain and how hummingbirds are most active after a big storm, as if the half-hour break from drinking sugar water nearly killed them. Making my daughter laugh so hard she falls down. Writing blog entries only when I feel like it. Pointing out that Bush probably has the worst administration we've had in my lifetime (and that includes Nixon); I think you'd have to go back to Taft to find a worse one. Telling everyone who will listen to make sure they see The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind at some point. And ...