Tuesday, January 27, 2015

"everyone has suffered a tragedy"

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, 1918
Today, I remember anew a long-ago TV interview with Anne Morrow Lindbergh, widow of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh. She sat in my television, straight and strong-jawed, with a single strand of WASP-obligatory pearls, and you just knew the interviewer would have to ask and yet cringed that he would: What was it like to have your child kidnapped?

In 1932, the kidnapping of Charles A. Lindbergh, Jr., aged 20 months, was, in H. L. Mencken's words, "the biggest story since the Resurrection." The boy was kidnapped, then found murdered and the perpetrator, who proclaimed his innocence to the end, was electrocuted.

The high profile that both parents had in the public eye (Anne was likewise an aviator and also an author and journalist) sent news stories through the roof. Yet here she was, so many years later (1980's?), sitting in my TV talking about I-don't-remember-what-precisely.

And finally, the shoe dropped and the interviewer asked what had to be asked ... what had it been like to have a child kidnapped? Anne Morrow Lindbergh did not flinch, even if I did. I had watched the interview up to that point with a certain skepticism about this well-heeled and well-connected personality -- "another smoothie," some class-conscious voice suggested in my mind ... everything under control, plenty of money, and no way into whatever inner sanctum she protected.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh did not flinch, but she sat still and straight and silent for a noticeable moment. But when she opened her mouth, she blew my socks off. She did, in one sense, deflect the question, CEO-fashion, but in another sense she hit the nail hard and right on the head. What she said was:
I think everybody has suffered a tragedy.
I didn't care if she was obfuscating or lying or waxing wise in the place of honesty. What she said, it struck me in that moment, was the truth or close enough for folk-singing. And what an excellent premise her words encased. And what an excellent conundrum they proposed. On the one hand, the presumption suggested we should all be a little more gentle with each other. And together with that there was the question, "how does anyone ingest, digest or 'solve' the tragedy that attends on this life like a shadow in the sunlight?" No one else cares, but I care about my cares. No one else cares, but you care about your cares. The universe is poker-faced and the tragic fires burn bright.

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the World War II liberation of Auschwitz, one of a number of Nazi concentration camps in which millions of Jews, gypsies, and other 'untermenschen' were annihilated. It was an unspeakable tragedy which Jews and others try to recall and instill and remember. A tragedy beyond tragedy, much like other tragedies. Ironically, but still tragically, Israel visits some of the same thinking that went into Auschwitz on the latter-day Palestinians they do their best to eradicate under a righteous banner. Vile and horrific. A tragedy.

At Veterans Administration hospitals here in the U.S., many of the patients are still strangled by the tragedies they witnessed or took part in. Other veterans are not hospitalized and yet relive their tragedies every ... fucking ... day. Vile and horrific and hardly limited to U.S. service personnel. A tragedy.

There are wide-swath tragedies like the above and small-swath tragedies that afflict damn near anyone. It is hard not to wonder if a human being is a human being without a tragedy that lingers and claws, sometimes without noticing. Wide-swath tragedians may write off an individual's gremlins as "small potatoes by comparison," but comparing tragedies is self-centered and more unkind than it needs to be.

Bit by bit and drip by drop, the events dwindle in the rearview mirror of time and yet linger and lash, even as the universe remains impassive. There's no forgetting and no real ability to remember truly, but the tragedy can be as compelling as a rattlesnake biting a careless wrist.

Can anyone solve a tragedy by acceding to it through faulty memory? Tragedy is inescapable, little or large. The tragedies of others can hardly compare to This Tragedy ... but, but ... somehow to acknowledge tragedy -- up-close and personal -- and to learn that "this too shall pass" even if it never, ever passes is useful, if tragically hard.

I guess the best anyone can do is to pay attention and be patient and weep as necessary. The past cannot be undone any more than "learning from the past" stands much of a chance.

But there is the possibility -- touted by Buddhism but hardly limited to its limited realms -- of entering the world of tragedy with all the fear and loathing that implies and ameliorating the devil. You're right. It's no fucking joke, whatever the small smile on the face of the universe. But bit by bit and drop by drop, without insisting on maintaining what slips away ... the moments can become easier. Yes, yes and again yes ... it's tragic.

But in the meantime, remember that "everyone has suffered a tragedy."

Kindness is worth the price.

1 comment:

  1. All we can offer is our presence. Right up to the moment when you pass through deaths door, however drugged you might be, having a hand held is what comfort you can find. Right up until you have to let it go, with everything else you ever knew and loved.