What’s driven my recent posts hasn’t really been a desire to criticize education itself. I’m groping my way toward the topic of despair and suicide, which is really hazardous to talk about, so I’m approaching it from a distance, setting out a few premises. In case you’ve missed my disclaimers, understand that I’m not a professional teacher (though I’ve taught now and then); I’m not a counselor or psychologist (though I’m fairly well read in psychology). I’m doing this for me, and if you get something out of it, I’m glad.
I’m not quite ready to talk about despair. Fortunately, it’s not an urgent personal concern. I haven’t been at the edge of despair for a long time — not since my early twenties. I feel like I should talk about it because on the one hand I have some emotional reserves right now that I can tap, and on the other, I have witnessed despair on Facebook more than once. And this past year one of my Facebook acquaintances was clearly foundering and then committed suicide. I didn’t know him, really, and had just a few interactions with him, so I don’t need you to express condolences. But maybe you appreciate the frustration and sadness his death provoked in me–especially if, like me, you have had people very close to you take their lives.
Right now, I’ll take another step toward the topic by way of discussing grief. When my brother-in-law died, I was shaken to my knees. When my immortal father died of cancer, I fell flat, and a huge crack ran through the foundations of my world. Another shock followed a year later when the son of my friends, himself a friend, was slain at Virginia Tech. (And here I’ll make an aside on guns. I have a few acquaintances who openly worship guns on Facebook, and witnessing it has afforded me a strenuous exercise in forbearance, wrestling against my Shadow and an outrage so dark it would turn my blood to ink if I lost the fight and indulged myself. If I can choke this down, then maybe you — all of you — can deal with the provocations that make you hit that “unfriend” button and that strike me as so, so f’ing petty. If I could go back in time and take away all your guns to prevent these massacres, I would do it, even knowing the reasonable arguments against such action. As one of my friends said here a few posts back, “I sense the darkness in you too,” and yes, if I’ve ever given you the impression that I don’t know how to say “fuck!” or to project and to hate murderously and implacably or have a tantrum, then I’ve probably done both of us a disservice.)
Right now, a few of my friends are dealing with profound grief, the loss of a young-adult child in an accident; the loss of a young spouse to heart attack; the loss of a mother. I can’t speak to their experience. I can’t even look into their grief with fitting imagination and sympathy because it would break me. Watching my father die was like carrying him down to the river Styx, and the years after that were an arduous return journey. My upper back was literally damaged, and it took me two years and the support of my friends at the Alpine Fitness gym to recover–I loved him that deeply. Love is a project that demands all our strength, and then more than our strength when we lose it. As far as I can see, my newly grieving friends are dealing with their challenge heroically, with gratitude for those they loved, extending themselves to friends, seeking help. My friends who lost their son at VT were similarly courageous. I commend their example to you.
Returning to my thread through these recent posts, the prison-maze of the mind and “important things we don’t talk about”: we are here too short a time for bullshit. Pain, horror, and grief will find you. Despair should not. There are forces in our lives separating us from our joy, our dignity, and our wisdom. And our education should equip us to fight them, not to more easily succumb, and as I go deeper into the topic of despair, I’ll try to articulate my best ideas about how it should do this. And when I get political, I’ll say so upfront.