The Mighty Viking

Conquering those things we must, one story at a time

Grief and gratitude

For most of us, when some tragedy enters the news cycle we read it, and before long we move on.

ARA San Juan, S-42

And that is how it should be, I suppose.  We can‘t all embrace the totality of traumatic impact.  It would be good to let these things go, to relegate that knowledge to the bin of things about which we simply say, “but life goes on”.

Healing matters.

But that doesn‘t mean we should adopt an inward indifference to the trauma around us.  Because many of the people around us cannot, even if they wanted.  And this affords us, the distant observer, to use our UN-traumatized abilities to do some small thing to ease the journey of the hurt ones, whose remaining life experience is unwillingly colored with painful memories, or dysfunctional processing of the world around us.

I would imagine most of us have some thing that has happened that gives us the ability to empathize to some small degree, if we wish to.    And in empathizing, we can open the door back into society for people who suddenly don‘t feel welcome there, who can‘t fully understand what has gone wrong with themselves, who are embarrassed and ashamed sometimes by their own odd behaviours and reactions.

It would perhaps seem odd to suggest that an average person could empathize with those things connected with the loss of a submarine.  To be able to feel the tension of losing the means of returning to the surface – no propulsion, no hydraulics, and conditions that prevent using the emergency blow system – if you haven‘t been there, the imagination has a hard time recreating that feeling.  A few of us have, and can.  But there are still aspects that anyone can relate to in some degree.

The ARA San Juan, S-42, of Argentina was lost two years ago about this time of year, under mysterious circumstances at the time, without notice, without message, without a trace.  44 men and women seemed to the rest of us to have just ceased to exist.  But those 44 people were not islands to themselves.  While the news focused on the search for a few weeks, most of the world went back to doing what they were doing after the search was called off.

But down there in a remote part of the world, 44 families – mothers and fathers, children, brothers and sisters – all still proud of the accomplishments of their sailor – looked in vain at the place where a face should be, and was not.  Perhaps they always will.  A community of consummate professionals will always see an empty spot on the pier where a boat should be pulling in and out periodically, a blank spot where something about the skills and efforts of their profession failed, a little patch of doubt that niggles in the back of the mind, and at test depth rattled like a saber.

And across the globe, there are other families of other nations doing the same thing.  Children going through life with an unspecified fear of the unknown, communities stained with loss, and doubt, and a sense of failure.

It isn‘t important that this be about submarines.  There are as many types of tragedies as there are people, I suppose, each with something unique in their patterns of grief and trauma.  But the more we can observe and remember, the sooner we can begin to see ways to connect in the common things, to reassure those uniquely hurt that there is still humanity in them. We who can respond without being overwhelmed can offer an acceptance back to humanity for those who struggle.  Regardless of the nightmares that yanks them awkwardly awake from their sleep, despite the unnatural reactions to daily life that confuse and sometimes hurt those around them, despite the guilt of having lived by virtue of luck, or the shame of some small factor that suddenly seems like the one mistake – something that should have saved them – we can offer the promise that they are still human.

Here in America, we have a day to relive the joy of Thanks.  We get out of practice, so it is good to remind ourselves of our humanity.  It started as little more than nervous smiles of survivors, celebrating little more than another breath, another heartbeat, another sunrise.  And perhaps that‘s all this Thanksgiving of ours should be.  In the midst of feasts, and the touch of family, maybe the real celebration should be had by exposing ourselves to the host of traumas we have shared as a species.  Maybe we should take a moment to gaze into the eyes of a troubled child, or a haunted soldier, to hold the hand of a terminal old codger staring into the grave, to see through their eyes what brings them fear and self-doubt, and lift them back into their humanity.  We should do this not to gloat about our own relative comfort, nor to brag about how much we may have experienced, but to reconnect mankind in whatever small way we have been afforded, whether it be by circumstance or providence.

We each here are survivors of something.  

A friend of mine has set up a means of doing just that.  When the San Juan went down, and was given up as lost, he and others responded to the grief of the families with empty places in their Christmas celebration by holding a fundraiser for Christmas toys for the children of the lost crew. This has become an annual tradition.  There are many ways you can touch someone who feels the loss of family – this is an easy one. There are many other ways, with both your resources and your heart. I regularly communicate with family of the Scorpion tragedy of 51 years ago, and can attest that the pain of loss never goes away. But sometimes it can be transformed. And the transformative catalyst is your humanity.

Find something, and do it.  We are given two hands for a reason:  one hand to lift another up, and one hand to take the hand extended to us.  These are both things we do in giving thanks.


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One Response to “Grief and gratitude”

  1. Bodie P says:

    I read this with a sense of recognition–those of us who have been touched by trauma and loss can use the strength we gain simply by walking through those dark times to, as you put it, reconnect those still in the dark with their humanity.

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