SUFFERING AND VIOLENCE
(NOTE: The following blog continues the series begun in October 2012, on the evolving topic, "Suffering, Consolation, and Dreams at Life's Extremities," to be completed and revised in late 2013. This particular blog follows immediately the outpouring of many raw emotions in many of us who witnessed, directly or through the media, the Boston bombings on April 15. I join countless thousands who grieve over the loss of lives and devastation of bodies, and extend to all of those who were so touched my deepest condolences.)
What do we tell our children when violence explodes in our lives, killing people, maiming bodies, destroying precious landscapes, marking forever in our psyches this date, this place, this cascading of emotions, this loss of innocence? What do we tell ourselves?
Although I now live in North Carolina, I have lived in and spent very special times in Boston. I love it -- the ancient "T," the Boston harbor, the skyline, the Red Sox, Bruins, Celtics, Patriots, the schools, the quirky streets and highways, the people, the restaurants, Symphony, "Pops," the chill in the September air, the thrill of the first snow, the ecstatic delight at the blooming of the first crocus, the holidays, and -- yes -- Patriot's Day and the Boston Marathon!
I have stood with my family in Copley Square and celebrated the victorious runners who prevailed in that historic 26.2 miles between Hopkinton and the finish line at the old picturesque and iconic square where thousands gather to share tradition that goes back over a century. I remember putting my arms around my daughter and hugging her to me, simply out of a kind of contagious and euphoric sense of community that cradles all those who run and those who celebrate Patriot's day through the heroic efforts of city staff and volunteers who make possible the Marathon.
But I was not prepared for my reaction when the news reached me about the bombs. Like all who receive news of tragedies, I did not want to believe it. Surely not the Marathon. Surely not Boston, surely not Boylston Street! What surprised me was the sickening feeling of having been punched in the stomach. It took me awhile to realize all the emotion I have invested in that place and people, as well as all that Boston and her people have given me.
My thoughts went everywehre. But quickly I thought of my daughter, Lee, anxious for her safety even though I knew she was 3,000 miles away in California's Bay area, where she lives with her family that includes a daughter almost the age Lee was when we stood together on Boylston Street and watched the Marathon. I had to call her to feel close to her, to reassure myself that she was alright.
But before I could call her, Lee called me. "Have you heard?" "Isn't it awful?" "Who could do such a thing?" "Why?" "We were there." And so it went with her rattling off her emotional thoughts, echoing my own.
What do you say to your child, even though she's an adult now with a child of her own? What do you say to yourself, even though you are now a grandparent and have witnessed too many of these eruptions of senseless violence in our world?
My work as a Jungian psychoanalyst and pastoral counselor jump-started my initial thoughts to try to understand the horror, and to try to articulate any insights I may have for others. But in this case, that was senseless. At the time, of course, we had no idea who was responsible. Anything I would have said then would have been speculation, of which there was way too much already. It would also have been way too intellectual, not in balance with what I wanted and needed to say. I was still in something like shock, still overcome with my own grief and disbelief to say much. I could only say, "I am so sad, so mindful of the good times we shared there, so concerned for everyone on the scene trying to put together the fragments of their bodies and their minds."
Now, even with the passage of time and the rapid identification of two suspects, I grasp at words to put on paper. But this much I know. I know that the bombings in Boston are symptomatic of a larger "war" within us, our nation and world. The polarizations stretch us to the breaking point, whether it be tensions between religious extremists, a widening gulf between rich and poor, dichotomies between technology and the humanities, or uncompromising differences between political and economic ideologies.
The outcome of these "wars" jeopardizes persons and families. The fragility of economic survival in the work place results not only in sickness, absenteeism, mistrust and anxiety over one's place in the world but also escalates stress within families. We now know that children cannot survive and thrive if they do not have a family bond that provides a safe, anxiety-free attachment with care-providers who make possible the development of trust, the actualization of their innate potential, training in how to modulate their aggression, reasons to believe their lives are meaningful, and guidance in their budding capacity to receive love and to love others with behavior that is constant, consistent, contiguous, and clear.
While reflecting on this matter of suffering and violence, I came across a very poignant and significant statement written by Carl Jung in 1957 (The Undiscovered Self," Collected Works, Vol. 10, para. 580):
The question of human relationship and of the inner cohesion of our
society is an urgent one in view of the atomization of the pent-up
mass man, whose personal relationships are undermined by general
mistrust. Wherever justice is uncertain and police spying and terror
are at work, human beings fall into isolation ... . To counter this
danger, the free society needs a bond of an affective nature, a
principle of a kind like caritas, the Christian love of your neighbor.
But it is just this love for one's fellow man that suffers most of all
from the lack of understanding wrought by projection. It would
therefore be very much in the interest of the free society to give
thought to the question of human relationships from the psycho-
logical point of view, for in this resides its real cohesion and con-
sequently its strength. Where love stops, power begins, and
violence, and terror.
And "begins violence and terror"! But let me also say this another way. Where love does not stop, violence and terror end. As Lee and I talked on that sad, mournful Monday, April 15th, the violence subsided under the shadow of our love.
Meanwhile, on the streets of Boston and in its many hospitals, love poured out to subdue the threat of violence and to bring healing where terror had exploded. Heroic people rushed into the streets of blood and gore; doctors and nurses worked late into the night and love never ended.
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