Vicarious Sorrow

Have you ever had a moment of clarity during which all your problems seem petty and insignificant? The present is a very dark, trying time for me. I feel like I’m being assaulted from every side, making me able to do nothing but cower down and try to make my life better. When you are hunkered down against the rain and hail and horror of a difficult time, very little forward work is possible. I’ve been feeling torn every which way until very recently.

Alternatively, have you ever met someone whose genuine kindness, generosity, and unfaltering thoughtfulness makes you simultaneously believe in humanity again and want to be a better person? I have, and I have the fortune to work with her. We will call her Shannon. No matter the fuckery at work or at home, all one has to do it talk to Shannon — not about the problems, but just to have a conversation with her — and suddenly it’s like that light of kindness has touched you and makes you feel better. She is polite, sweet, kind, modest, never talks bad about anyone, doesn’t curse, always sees the best in people, and is unflinching in her attempts to always do right.

Shannon is the mother of three boys, two in college and one, we shall call him Kevin, just about to graduate from high school. Tragically, two weeks ago Kevin was hit by a car and dragged. That person sped off and he was hit at least one more time. This person also sped away. Last week, Kevin passed away from his injuries, having never regained consciousness. He was three days away from graduating from high school.

This would be tragic under any circumstances — any at all — but it’s all the more so because Shannon is who she is. A woman like her should have a life of rainbows, glitter, unicorns, and flowers. Not this. That’s not to say that someone hateful and horrible should have his/her child die so horribly, not at all, but you just want the best of things for someone like Shannon. You want the world to be as kind to her as she is to others.

My heart breaks for her. Our whole team is in agony for her, every last one of us, but especially the mothers. The same thoughts are going around: we can’t imagine what she’s feeling, we are full of vicarious sorrow for her, and we don’t know why someone so good can have so much tragedy in her life. It seems an insult to take a lesson from something so senseless and random and heartbreaking, but I can’t stop my mind from supplying me with one:

There’s always someone worse off. Shannon is coming back to work a week after Kevin’s death, whether because she needs the distraction, the escape, or just the paycheck. If she can do that, I can suck it up and deal with my stupid, petty, paltry, problems and my own blasé, whiny, procrastinating aversion to change that is holding me back. If someone so kind can also be so strong, then Shannon is indeed an example of human potential. She does make you want to be a better person. She restores your faith in humanity. And though my heart is shattered for her and her family, everything in life, everything that touches us is a lesson.

I think I’m trying to make sense of it, to force some selfish, 99 cent store generic morality out of a pointless, meaningless tragedy. There isn’t one. No amount of rationalizing will make this an After School Special, and it shouldn’t be anyway. This is life and death, and it’s sometimes terrible, but it’s often very great. If I indulge my penchant for procrastination and allow my life to fester in misery, then I am willingly inflicting a state of mind on myself that others would do anything to alleviate or avoid. And not only is that stupid, it’s practically unforgivable.

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~ by Darren Endymion on May 30, 2016.

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