My mother has found the outpouring of grieving reactions from people about my father’s death to be moving and comforting. She keeps saying how surprised my father would be—so many people have touched her by saying such nice things about a man who was always nice. Me, well, on the whole I have found that I need to reconfigure what I think of people. Granted, none of the people who have, unbeknownst to them, hurt me ever knew my father, but I had thought that on the whole people were kind and caring and were able to take a moment out of their lives to console a friend/colleague/acquaintance. My mother said I should just leave it, but how can I? How can I let the uncaring, or unaware, or thoughtless not impinge just a bit into my vision of the village?
Maybe I was like them before, not aware of how much a word, however brief, just acknowledging someone’s grief means to that person. But does that really excuse a colleague who I laugh with on a daily basis in the English teacher lunchroom to say to me the other day, as I was telling something that happened while we were sitting shiva at my parent’s house, “Oh, yeah, sorry about your father.” Speak of cutting to the quick with insensitivity. A few years ago, when I barely knew her, I went to her sister’s funeral. So she knows of grief. The casual way she addressed me just doesn’t leave me.
And then there is another teacher, her room is next to mine and we talk on occasion, but she is much older than me and she keeps to herself most of the time because she’s busy being the overworked theatre teacher. Granted, this summer we ran into each other in the records room of the courthouse when she was there with her daughter who was going through a divorce and I was there in the continual ache of divorce proceedings, which, perhaps, made some kind of outside-of-school bond. And I did tell her that I was flying down to Florida because my father was sick. When she saw me in the hall the other day, she gave me the warmest hug and said how sorry she was for my loss. Then, after we talked for a few minutes, as she was walking away she turned and said “Love ya,” which worked to bring tears again to my eyes, this time not in memory of my father or her parents who had passed away, but from the kindness of some people and the connections that we create that hold us to each other—and up.
There was an email announcement at school and at temple about my father’s passing. At school, one person sent an email and one person sent a card, and I received a plant from the school administration. I did tell three school friends about his passing before the announcement was made and they were kind, but each of them, I believe, should have contacted me over the break to see how my father was, which they did not do. At temple, there were calls and emails from a few people, and a donation made in honor of my father. At temple there were also genuine hugs when people saw me, and there was an honest sense of caring.
I don’t know what to think. Is it an age thing, being able to acknowledge someone’s grief and be able to reach out to a person who is grieving? Is it a work-relationship thing? Is it me and my ability or inability to connect at a deep enough level with people for them to reach out to me? Is it that at temple, a place created for, to a great degree, dealing with the hurts of life, people find it easier to connect? I have no idea.
What I sense is that we are so entrenched in our lives that we don’t take the time to reach out to each other, at least not in meaningful ways. What I sense, too, is that we are so very tribal and the tribe is so very very small: one’s own nuclear family and the few friends who are admitted into that circle. Social networking. Is that just another way to pretend that we engage with people when, really, we are further closing into the smallest family unit. Do we know how to create meaningful relationships? Do I?
The saving grace was my real friends, who showed that they are, indeed, real friends. Am I too naïve or deluded to hope/ think/expect that more of the people whose lives intersect with mine will care enough about me to extend a word, a gesture, an acknowledgement? Pain. Yes, it’s painful that my father passed away. But it’s also painful to realize that we are not intersecting with each other, we are simply in parallel paths.
Will this knowledge stop me from expressing my concern for others? No. There is a difference in understanding the way most people work and in succumbing to that. Are my real friends my real friends because they share the same characteristics as me? Maybe it’s not our circumstances that invites closeness but rather our personalities.
I don’t know. It’s all so painful. Is it really so hard to show that you care, that someone else’s life can divert from yours for just a moment?