Saturday, June 8, 2013

One of my first jobs out of college was working for The Shoah Foundation - an organization that collected and archived the testimonies of Holocaust Survivors.  I was a cataloguer, working the night shift. Night after night I sat in front of the computer and viewed the videotaped testimonies of people who had been through hell and had somehow lived to talk about it - many of them had been witness to their parents, siblings, spouses and children being selected to go to the gas chambers, executed in front of their eyes, and beaten to death.  I was unable to get the horrific images out of my mind.  When I was home, I would lie on my couch for hours trying to figure out where I would hide people in my apartment should anything ever happen like that here.  I had a hard time sleeping.  I was perpetually plagued with the terrors of humanity - how people could be so awful to each other - so full of hate and with such a disregard for human life.  It put all of the "problems" in my life into perspective, making it nearly impossible to "sweat the small stuff".

In 2003, I co-founded the San Francisco Bay Area Darfur Coalition with a survivor of the Bosnian Genocide and an refugee from Southern Sudan.  The three of us felt that we could not ignore the horrors of Darfur.  Having listened to hours of Holocaust testimonials over a period of two years touched me so deeply that I was forever changed.  My co-founders had lived through genocide.  They had both been in the heart of the hell.  They had dedicated their lives to ensuring that nobody else would ever have to go through what they'd been through.  While I had the luxury of putting it all out of my mind very often, they spent all of their waking hours fighting to save the lives of others.  Though we were working towards the same goals, their experience gave them a different perspective than me. Their stories and those coming from Darfur could not (and cannot) simply fade from my consciousness.  That I had not been through a genocide was something I was very aware of as we sat together and discussed our methods and approach.  My life had been blessed.  Their experiences gave me perspective.

Sitting by my child's bedside as he lay connected to life support, knowing that I would never again play with him, read to him, sing to him, cuddle with him and get to physically love him ever again in my life changed my perspective so profoundly that I will never be the same.  I too will grieve over pets, I will feel frustrated when I am misunderstood by colleagues at work or "anonymous" readers of my blog, I will feel anxious when my child won't go down for a nap or I have burnt a casserole.  I will feel these things, as much as the next person, but my experience of losing my child will forever put these things and everything else in my life into perspective.

My blog is a sacred space where I share MY perspective.  What you call "an appalling lack of empathy", I call perspective.  I recognize that most people do not share my perspective.  Most people have never and will never have to experience losing their child.  I recognize as well that many people have no ability to put things into perspective.  The hardest thing that they will go through will be the death of their pet, an argument with their boss or any of the other things that you feel I have dismissed.  I don't dismiss those things, by the way, I just am able to put them into perspective because I TOO have experienced these things and I will continue to in the future.  This isn't good or bad - it just is.  You are free to judge what I have to say, because I have made my private thoughts public.  You have not been where I've been.  You have not seen what I've seen.  You have not walked one minute in my shoes.  I urge you to take a step back and put your comments into perspective.

I often look back on the things I have cried about in the past - the stuff I thought was really big.....and I wonder how I wasted all of those tears.  I know there are others who are crying over things now that they will one day look back on and realize were of very little importance....that they were lucky that their big things were not all that big.  You are lucky if you don't have my perspective.  You are lucky that are sitting at home in front of your computer, with living children and grandchildren, feeling frustrated and judging my perspective.  

If you'd lost what I've lost, you'd probably have my perspective too.


Taryn said...

LOVE this essay. This part struck me: "I recognize that most people do not share my perspective. Most people have never and will never have to experience losing their child. I recognize as well that many people have no ability to put thing into perspective." If we look globally, people should quickly recognize how easy life is here. You are right, that the majority of parents in this country will not have to experience the horror of loosing their babies, and hence will not share your perspective, but there is a mind-boggling and heartbreaking number of parents in this world who face their own mortality and that of their children Every. Single. Day. I would argue that life is incredibly difficult for most people on this planet, which makes the comments from your anonymous reader even more stunning. As they chide you for being unempathetic, they are displaying a severe case of 1st-world disconnect with humanity—a disconnect with the majority of the human beings on this planet. I can see your point that it is absurd, and even silly when our associates, boo-hoo about the “difficulties” of their problems or even their opportunities. Most people throughout the world, who live with real problems of this human experience, would likely count these ‘problems’ as having a boss to be upset with, or enduring the moodiness of a teething child, navigating issues with a school teacher, or having to cook a new pot of food because you burned the last one. Millions of people would pray for these kind of problems in exchange for the hand they have been unfairly dealt.
I would argue that your perspective of as a grieving mother, while relatively unique in this area of the world, is actually shared on a much larger scale with the whole of the human race. What you are expressing here ties you to billions of people LIVING TODAY on this planet, and countless others who have already endured this human experience. Your perspective is about as connected to true humanity as it can be. You understand the human predicament and struggle on a level that transcends economics, race, gender, age...all other barriers. You are far from alone in your perspective, and those who assert that you are heartless for having this perspective, need to step back and realize the stones they are symbolically casting at the majority of people who are living daily with the realities of our mortality. Your perspective is yours (and shared by them), it has come at a soul crushing price, and it is incredibly valuable. I really appreciate what you are willing to share with us, because you are helping to connect all of us to the heart of our human race and soul. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I don't believe "Anonymous" is judging your perspective, rather just stating theirs. To most people (in the US and around the world), have not experienced the loss of a child so loosing a pet or fighting with a friend or coworker is their most tramatic experience. It's important not to discredited others experiences but to realize we are all dealing with life's challenges.-jack

Anonymous said...

I get you. Even though I have not walked in your shoes, I just want you to know that from reading your blog, I get it. I do not understand why anyone would write anything rude to you. Why are they even looking at your blog if they don't understand you? Why would anyone ever want to cause additional pain to someone who has lost a child? Which is the most horrible thing anyone could ever go through. I hear a story about a child who has died & I just cannot read & forget. I see pictures of these children & know that their short life will impact mine as long as I live. I have to check in on their moms, or dads, or whoever is writing the blog b/c I can't stop thinking about the family that has gone through so much & I want to see how they are doing. I want to remember their child & try to see my own "problems" in a different way. You help me to do that & I thank you for that & I am so very sorry that you lost your precious little boy. I read a blog called, "An Inch of Gray". Someone posted the story of the family (they lost their son during a flood) on fb and I just have to keep checking in on them. I mention that blog b/c she too has recently come under attack from readers. That, I do not get. I just don't get it. This is your blog. You get to write whatever you want. It is your outlet. I will keep reading. I will continue to check in on your family. I'll always remember your little guy. My dad lost his three year old brother over 50 years ago. I never forget that I have an uncle Lee. I hope he's the first one I see in heaven one day. Sending prayers to you and your family.

Seeing Each Day said...

I've got no answers - especially any wise ones- but I have learnt, and do certainly know that one should listen, but never judge or assume until they've walked in another one's shoes. Even before your Maxie was taken away from you, in terms of your previous work, I think you well and truly had a taste of life's cruelty and perspective. Renee.

Taryn said...

Abby, I hope I didn't come across as minimalizing your personal pain with my comment. I sincerely apologize if I did. I recognize that while so many people are suffering in this world it can be easy to get lost in the generalities of that suffering,yet each experience is incredibly unique, even if they do share some important common threads. What you share about your experience with loosing YOUR baby underscores that fact. There is only one Maxie. In this sense, your experience is very unique and sacred. No other person on this earth will be able to replace Max. He holds a very special place in this world that NO ONE can ever fill. Yours is such a terrible, terrible loss. I'm so, SO sorry.

Maxie's Mommy said...

Not at all. I totally understood your intent and I agree. Thank you for sharing your perspective.

Taryn said...

Oh, good. Many hugs!

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