Feb 5, 2009

Fallen Angels - On Expressions of Grief

Currently there is a debate raging within the U.S. military over its awarding of the Purple Heart – the prestigious President’s medal to war veterans. Historically, the medal has gone only to those who have been physically wounded on the battlefield as a result of enemy action. The Pentagon’s recent decision not to award the Purple Heart to soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress (PTS) has caused great controversy and disappointment to family members of those suffering from PST. During the 2004 presidential election, John Kerry’s Purple Hearts, awarded for his service in Vietnam, were dismissed by his opponents because the wounds he suffered were not considered grave enough. While many who suffer from ‘perforated eardrums’ (the commonest war injury) receive the Purple Heart, the Pentagon has overruled the eligibility of those other fallen angels, those suffering from PTS, to receive the same, citing ‘difficulty of accessing seriousness’ as its chief justification.

At the heart of the Pentagon debate lays the futile attempt to somehow, quantify and qualify such variables as damage, grief and pain. So accustomed have we become to ISO certifications, benchmarks, standards and regulations that we are in fear of losing our essential humanity, that single bond that alone can mitigate our individual tragedies and sorrows. The vainglorious and impatient man is so insulated in his plush cocoon of temporal victories, of troubles overcome and hurdles crossed, that he forgets that there are those who may not share the same fortitude or courage that he’s been blessed with.

“Stop wallowing in self pity, after all you have other things to bother about. Look around, there are millions with far greater problems than this stupidity you’re obsessed with”, had said the mother of the 18-year old girl who committed suicide over one of the commonest trifles in almost every adolescent’s life – heartbreak, a broken relationship. Actually, it could be a host of other similar issues – poor academic performance, failure to gain admission into IIM at the third try, merciless ragging in the hostel. We laugh at these curious instances of adolescent angst and grief and loftily proclaim a hierarchy of sorts.


After all, what are these when compared to the headaches of us middle aged busy professionals – endless mortgage payments when you’ve just lost your job, a messy divorce, a diabetic father-in-law who refuses to watch his diet and requires hospitalization almost every week, the daughter whose blood transfusions are getting more frequent with every passing day, a philandering spouse or … … hey, feel free to add your own variations.

No dialogue is possible between the two groups for each is competing with the other to prove the supremacy of their grief, not share it.

People make a big thing of those who complain, who seek to share their sorrows; crudely put - of the proverbial pain-in-the-ass. He/she is shunned at office parties, goes uninvited at weekend luncheons and is barely ever asked out during a Friday night drinking binge. People assume he’d either decline, or worse still, spoil the soiree. We never stop to ask ourselves if there is any relief we could offer to the poor soul, concentrating instead on what he can or cannot offer us.
“Take it easy/ move on/ look towards the end of the tunnel” – life is so replete with these utterly moronic exercises at profundity that I wonder how will such sage discourse help a mother whose 25 -yr old firstborn is counting his last days in the hospital; likewise how can I even dare to advise/show the Citibank executive how he should channel his rage after he has just lost his job and has a family of six to look after? To attempt to write off or qualify any of their concerns reeks of the worst degree of insensitivity and high handedness.

It’s said that happy people make happy employees. Fair enough. Are we then suggesting that we marginalize the unhappy, the depressed, and the unfortunate (for whom happiness is a premium). Why can’t we, the merry band, take a bit more onus for the others? After all Bill Gates could as easily have sprouted the famous management mantra to the refugees in Congo and Rwanda, “Work your ass off, or languish in hell.” But he didn’t. To never have felt pain and yet weep for another who is in pain calls for far greater nobility than an ordinary human being can summon. Pushing the envelope is what I call it, and maybe, it’s just a dash of empathy that we all need today.

4 comments:

onlooker said...

powerful writing. touches a raw nerve somewhere...makes you twinge or cringe with guilt and pain. so well written..great eloquence...enjoyed reading it or rather absorbed into it ...both for the flow and the absolutely strong content. was like reading a good book! :)

indiana said...

i can understand your feelings on human pain and suffering.

but unlike developed societies , pain and suffering in our country is in your face kind. We see so much of it in one lifetime out here one can't help but become immune to it. Maybe some do help from the outside. maybe help to the extent one can. But i see no other way!

drift wood said...

Onlooker: What ca i say... thanks. dont think i deserve the high praise u so generously shower. incidentally, i loved & took the pixar test from ur blog. dori it is for me too. :-(i'd have loved to be crush the turtle)
indiana: cant agree with that notion of us vs. developed societies here. there they drink, do drugs, do therapy, get depressed, have sex & find zilion ways towards eventual self destruction. i dunno how healthy that is.
also, the model of empathy i'm driving at assumes that no one becomes inured to grief, towards others' misery; for if that were to be, were wud we be as a species?

onlooker said...

a cheery 'hi' from one dori-like to another! ;) absolutely love the movie, have to dig it up and watch it (yet)again, now that ive been reminded...! n thanks for dropping by..