This article about how what people are feeling right now is grief keeps popping up in my Twitter feed.
When I first read it, I understood why people liked it and knew I should, too, but it mostly irritated me. Every time I came across it, I got irritated anew.
But why? you ask. It’s such a nice, thoughtful essay. I felt better after reading it.
Yeah, you did. Because it’s feel-good bullshit.
First of all, ‘grief’ itself is one of those words — like ‘community’ — that sends me into a violent rage, because it’s so cheap, so overused, that you can count on its very utterance being, almost always, pure performative bullshit.
(This probably explains why I have so little patience with fiction whose premise is dead children or ailing family members. Too much of the work with these themes counts on the instant heart-string pull to mask lazy writing and sheer manipulative intent.)
I’m not disputing that the feeling of grief exists. But those who revel in talking about it, labeling every annoyance, every feeling of unease, every hurt feeling grief are full of shit.
They do it because it’s easy and because grief, like pain and suffering, is considered noble. You’re not a hyperventilating hot mess, frazzled from too much time at home with the kids in between videoconference meetings, pouting because your fun that involves travel or socializing has been postponed indefinitely. No, you are feeling “anticipatory grief.” Gimme a fuckin’ break.
Note that all this precious writing is aimed at work-from-homers whose jobs aren’t in immediate peril. I bet all the laid-off workers don’t feel grief over canceled birthday parties or spring-break family trips, but utter fucking despair over losing the roofs over their heads and the ability to feed their kids.
All of us who stay at home, keep our families healthy and do our jobs remotely should fucking count our blessings and shut the fuck up. So you’re a little perturbed. It’ll go away. You’ll adjust. You’re not grieving; disappointment over the non-fulfillment of your myriad fun plans isn’t grief. After all, what was that saying? If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.
I grew up in a very chaotic society. Amid political and economic turmoil, the societal attitude (and that in my family, for sure) was that we’re always, always, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
And you know what? People grow up, have friends and fun, fall in love, get jobs, raise families, and live full lives in chaotic societies.
In fact, until I came to the US I didn’t know one could ever have so much faith in the system. In a functioning judiciary, long-term political stability, health of the economy; in people following rules. Realizing this was possible was heartening. I started feeling entitled to all these things. I became soft, complacent.
But this, this situation we have now, the open-endedness, the uncertainty, that’s what I’d been training for my whole youth. And I can tell you that all this is not only survivable, but livable. Even thrivable. (Provided you don’t actually die from COVID, of course.)
What you’re feeling isn’t grief. Please, don’t cheapen grief. It’s bewilderment in the face of the unknown because you’ve spent your whole life able to count on stability and prosperity. But that’s not a feature of most societies, and even when it is, it’s never for more than a few uninterrupted decades.
What you’re facing is actually Lovecraftian: cosmic horror that has no interest in making its intentions understood. What you’re feeling is fear. Fear is not noble; fear makes you feel and look weak. But it’s real and it’s true. And it will pass.