Monday, November 7, 2022

Alexander Graham Bell and Radical Acceptance (And David Sedaris)

Accepting things as they are isn't the same as liking them.

I was talking with a friend the other day who is going through a messy divorce.  They are upset their spouse left them and is refusing to move on.  I guess they secretly harbor thoughts that their ex-spouse will "come crawling back any day now" asking for forgiveness and they will be vindicated.

Ain't.  Gonna.   Happen.

I realize it is a shitty deal for them, but then again, it is what it is.  You can grieve and feel betrayed, but then you have to move on.  Eventually you have to move on.   Well, you don't have to, but you should.  Not moving on is to live in stasis and sacrifice the rest of your life for grieving.

I took a piss on David Sedaris the other day (no word if he is into that) and in some sense, I was a little unfair.   He wrote a book of inexplicable short stories called "Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk" - I guess he thought he was a modern day Aesop.  One of the stories was about a bear whose mother had died.  She grieved so much about her dead mother that she allowed herself to be captured, abused, and eventually killed. It appears to be a story about his own family - how his Mother died, and I am guessing his late sister allowed herself to be scarred by this (she later killed herself and Sedaris wrote a gloating piece in The New Yorker about it).

Back in the day, of course, that was what was done.  Your husband died, and you became the "Dowager Widow" and wore black crepe for at least a year - if not the rest of your life.  Grieving became a full-time profession.  And this goes on today, sans the black crepe.  I was talking with another friend and they related how an Aunt lost her husband and every time they went to visit her, she would talk about nothing other than how her life was upended by the unforeseen tragedy.  We're not talking about weeks or months, but years and even decades. She squandered the rest of her life, pining for something that would never return.  Would her late husband have wanted that?  Was that "honoring" his memory - destroying what is left of your time on earth?

I think not.

I wrote before about a quote by Alexander Graham Bell (no relation) shown quote above.  Most people remember only the first part of the quote.  But the second part is talking about what today we call Radical Acceptance.  It is a bit of a buzzword and I am sure some guru is using it at a seminar to bamboozle people.  And yes, it can be a bit of victim-blaming.

But I got to thinking that all of these things are tied together.  My friend going through the divorce, the bear in Dave Sedaris' story, the Aunt who can't stop grieving, Alex Bell's quote - they are all about the same thing.  Bad things happen in life - they will happen.  We all die.  Our parents die.  Our spouses die.  Sometimes even our children die.  You can view this as some unexpected and unplanned event - that "but for" medical miracles, you'd live forever.  But the reality is, it is a predictable event.  And it is surprising how many people are totally unprepared for the most predictable event in life.

I don't know how many widows I've met who tell me their finances are in a shambles, as they let their late husband handle everything and they have no idea where even the bank statements are or whether there was life insurance or what.  No one thought to sit down and write down these things and keep their spouse up-to-date on where everything was and is.

But it isn't just death or divorce.  Even small mistakes and tragedies in life are something you should prepare for and move on from.  The human brain often works against us, and for some reason, if you wake up late at night, your brain decides to re-hash every bad mistake you ever made, just to make sure you don't get back to sleep.  Or the brain decides to solve the world's problems.  I had a mid-east peace plan all worked out in my head last night, and then I went back to sleep and forgot all about it.

Just kidding - that's Jared Kushner's schtick.  Although lately, I think he is less concerned with a two-state solution than with keeping his father-in-law's rabid supporters from lynching him.  Time to change teams, Jared?  I mean, lower taxes and fiscal conservancy are fine things and all, but you have to be alive to appreciate them, and things are getting very ugly, very fast.  My litmus test for candidates is very simple:  Which party is least likely to stuff me in a gas chamber or encourage my murder?  And the answer, today, is very, very clear.

But I digress.

Moving on and accepting things doesn't mean you have to like them or forget about them.   People act all shocked when a widow remarries a year after their spouse died (or even less).  Scandalous!  The little old ladies (LoLs) tsk-tsk and shake their heads, mostly because, in the retirement community, women outnumber men 2:1 - and Edna got there first with a casserole. Propriety be damned - she's getting a man!

But seriously, people move on, and that is a healthy thing.  It is OK to say, "I don't like this, but I have to accept it, it is the new reality and I have to figure out how to best maneuver in it."   What is not OK and is in fact, damaging, is to either live in a fantasy world of denial, where you don't accept things that happen or hope they reverse course, just because they should.

Folks like that are the classic "deer in the headlights" - and we all do this to some extent.  It is the basis of externalization but perhaps even worse.   People decry reality instead of adapting to it, and like Sedaris' dancing bear, end up destroying their own lives, wailing all the time, "If only there was something I could do to avert this horrible fate!  Oh woe is me!  Life is so unfair!  The "system" is stacked against me! Oh, what to do, what to do!"

Popular sport as of late.

Everyone, it seems, wants to paint themselves as a victim of external forces, whether it is shadowy conspiracies that don't exist, or an ex-wife demanding child support payments.  Blame minorities, blame the gays, blame women in general, blame the opposing political parties, blame the trans people, blame - anyone but yourself.  No one wants to sit down and think, "I have a bowl of dogshit here, but I don't have to eat it - what are my other options?"

And bear in mind (pardon the pun), I am not taking pot-shots at others, as we all do this on occasion.  It is when it becomes a chronic, ongoing thing is when it damages the soul.  When we spend our lives grieving - or aggrieved - we basically let go of the steering wheel of life and let the car run into a ditch.

I ran into this decades ago when a relative's girlfriend left him.  They had been together for years, but he got into smoking a LOT of pot and some mental health issues and she smartly decided that there was more to life than being a caretaker of a 24-year-old infant.  So she left.

Rather than deal with this and move on with life, he decided to make this grievance the centerpiece of his life - for another decade.  Life was so unfair!  She left him for some guy with a job, because that's all women care about - money!  (the fact that she worked and he didn't, failed to register with him - she was just tired of supporting a deadbeat husband).  But as you might imagine, drugs were involved, and as I noted before, the problem with marijuana is that it can induce stasis in its users.  They get into a bad place and then stay there, instead of finding their way out.  Alcohol has a similar effect.

It is sad to see this happen to friends and family members, too.  And there is little you can do about it.  You can try to suggest to them that they move on, but you will get a lot of push-back.  This grieving or grievance is their new shiny object, and by suggesting that maybe they drop it, you are tarnishing its image.  They will simply view you as the enemy - another part of the unfair world stacked against them.

In fact, such people can be dangerous - and even deadly.  The stalker is the extreme example of this mentality - as well as the ex-husband who kills his own family.  "If I can't have them, no one can!" they exclaim, after wiping out the ex-wife and kids and committing suicide-by-cop.   It happens every day in America - and in other parts of the world.   Some folks just can't move on, without extracting some kind of revenge.

I guess that was the point of Sedaris' animal essay - that harboring these grievances is a way of driving yourself insane and a one-way ticket to depression, and maybe even suicide.

Radical Acceptance.  There may be a nugget of truth in that.