Barry Spector, author of Madness at the Gates of the City, writes a blog in which he mines the subtle cultural mythologies that we take for granted. In a recent post, he writes about how our white, masculine, Christian, must-be-productive society tends to avoid the scary topics of grief and death. “Typically, a doctor, rather than a minister, presides over the deathbed, keeping displays of emotion to a minimum. Adults deprive both children and the dying persons themselves of the opportunity to confront death. Then the body is embalmed, restored, dressed and transformed from a rotting cadaver into ‘a beautiful memory picture.'”
People who don’t confront death and grief directly, Spector argues, keep their dark emotions shoved out of sight, where they simmer quietly until they bubble over into prejudice, violence, and hatred. “Preferring vengeance to mourning, we are still the only nation to use atomic weapons. Americans invented napalm, cluster bombs and ‘anti-personnel’ mines. We are stunningly unmoved by news of torture at Guantanamo, rape of prisoners in Iraq or police murders of unarmed African Americans, because innocence always trumps awareness.”
This simmering violence also persuades “rational” people to scorn expressions of grief over the destruction of the Earth. It makes some environmentalists claim that making gifts of beauty for hurt places has nothing to do with activism. Radical Joy for Hard Times believes that facing the dark places in ourselves, our society, and our planet helps to open us up to grief. And when we open up to grief, we release reserves of compassion, creativity, empowerment, and joy.
Read Barry Spector’s entire blog post here.