This time is difficult. There’s a tremendous amount of conflict, a tremendous amount of change, and a tremendous about of grief. Any one of those things would be difficult for Americans to navigate, but we are swimming in a soup of all three.
Americans are emotionally fragile. We don’t even have much language to describe the process of learning emotional skills and practicing them. We’ve allowed our public/cultural conversation to center completely on topics that serve capitalism, so if parents aren’t emotionally mature and modeling good emotional hygiene, their children are left to either gleen from the culture or their classrooms how to manage their feelings.
I think that’s part of why America has such high rates of addiction. Most of us are profoundly broken, and we have no obvious way to healing and growth. There’s resources, but they require people to search for them. Mental health services have skimpy coverage in most healthcare plans, assuming someone has coverage, which is not a solid assumption.
So here we are in a time that requires Olympic level emotional skills. And we have none. Conflict and change are tough, but most of us have regular experience with them. Grief happens less frequently and is a master without mercy.
When my dad died I spent at least a week sleepwalking through life. His funeral and calling hours are a blur. It took a few weeks for me to start feeling more present in my day to day.
Once that phase passed, I entered into periods of feeling normal punctuated by moments of feeling extreme loss. Maybe I would make it a few days without a bitter cry. Maybe I would make it a couple weeks. That seemed to last six months.
Now I have a crying session once or twice a year. I ran across I voicemail from my dad unexpectedly a few months ago. I heard it, and grief descended upon me feeling just as fresh and raw as the day he died. I suspect this is my new normal. Everything is fine. Everything is fine. INTENSE GRIEF!! Everything is fine. Everything is fine.
Grief feels so different from enduring conflict and change because it seems untethered to time and the range of emotions it elicits are unpredictable. Conflict and change often follow a predictable story arc, and the emotions they elicit follow more closely to a dependable script. Grief masquerades as other things, making it hard to identify. Sometimes it manifests as fatigue. Sometimes it manifests as a low-level feeling of fragility. Sometimes it shows itself as your short temper.
We are in a moment to grieve so much. I personally grieve for the country I thought I lived in. I grieve for the nearly 200,000 people who have died due to COVID-19. I grieve for the sickness and dysfunction in our culture. I grieve for my fellow Americans who are lost in rage. These loses feel as big as the ocean.
There is no happy wrap up to this post. The reasons for grieving are real. I am trying to be generous with myself, and accept that my emotions are volatile right now. I am trying to extend this kindness to others. We are all struggling, and we are all vulnerable to taking these emotions out on others who do not deserve it. Be kind. First to yourself. Then to others.