The Decorum of Grieving

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:05 am by Administrator

Post-entry disclaimer: the New Yorker article pre-dated the second attack as well as the Paris “unity rally”. as a result, my critique of the article misrepresents the article’s content and purposes. but i won’t scrap the entry, since i stand by my general sentiments about the unity rally nonetheless.

an old friend of mine had an article published in this week’s New Yorker about the “unity rally” in paris. my wife ran across it on Facebook and shared it with me. i was sick in bed today with nothing else to do, so i caught up on emails and ended up reading the article. i felt a little unsettled (and perhaps even a bit confused) after the first read, so i read it again. and then i read it a third time. and it struck me at long last that this was not an essay about the political and historical ironies backgrounding the rally in Paris; and it was not a commentary on the unjust lack of similar attention paid to other and equal atrocities throughout the rest of the world. no, this was an essay about the decorum of grieving. and the writer’s message, between all the lines of elegant and occasionally obtuse prose, seems to be that the French (and the world for that matter) have grieved this particular tragedy a bit too dramatically. the French—with their colonial history, their legacy of racism, and their tradition of “better than thou” secular wit—ought to recognize that many in the world stand to be offended by too lugubrious a display of mourning, in this particular case. “rein it in”, in other words. tone it down please, and be respectful of the rest of us who also have legitimate things to grieve throughout the rest of the world.

perhaps if we were all so razor sharp and cognizant of the various prejudices and hypocrisies that invalidate our legitimacy as mourners, then none of us would ever attend such rallies as the the one that occurred in Paris. but then we would be depriving ourselves of an essentially human experience, if there ever was one: the right to respond to tragedy with a deeply felt and collectively expressed sadness. when something of this magnitude occurs to someone, don’t we accord the right and privilege of mourning to those closest to the victims? don’t we give them some space and freedom to determine how they will send off their loved ones, and how they will begin to move on? the French chose to express their pain through a rally, and to their credit, it was a rally that included (if not highlighted) the mourning Muslims among them. it was a rally that branded no enemies. it was a rally that was openly invitational and inclusive. and yes, it was a rally that became far more dramatic than anyone could have expected. perhaps people who had no right to be there were prominently in attendance. but i would argue that most of the people there had no right to be there, for various reasons associated with their races, beliefs, culpabilities, and associations. nevertheless, a great multitude of mourners were drawn by a common sense of urgency; and they engaged in a grieving that briefly transcended religious, national, and racial lines. perhaps this was inappropriate or indecorous? i contend it was human—and human in the best sense of the word.

there are many peoples and tribes that have much to grieve. it is their right to grieve and to determine the proceedings of their mourning. i would hope that when the object of grieving has the power to move us toward a mutual appreciation and a common sense of humanity, we might come together and share in that grieving. we take that opportunity so rarely, and sometimes even when it does happen, we are left with sentiments and beliefs that ultimately divide us. but i think it’s nevertheless worth hoping in, that when we come together to share a common pain, we are changing in the process, and we are emerging from our legacies, our histories, and our identities with the potential to become something new.

i say let the bereaved grieve, and let them grieve loudly. let these bodies be mourned, and let them be mourned in spite of all other bodies that remain to be mourned. for however long, let us be Charlie, let us be Jewish, let us be Muslim, even if it makes us foolish in the process. seventeen people in Paris died in sudden and terrifying circumstances, and their countrymen want it to mean something both good and hopeful. i am willing to see all manner of hypocrisy revealed, if it means that we might be allowed to join them, and, for just a little while, be as one.

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