The Pain from Tucson

Published in the Brattleboro Reformer, January 21, 2011.

The killings in Tucson have awakened fear and confusion and pain (and even guilt) in many people. Here I focus only on the pain. Perhaps the deepest pain has come from the story of the nine year old girl. I would guess that most people who have seen interviews with her parents and her friends feel upset that this little girl has died. People who are not particularly interested in their feelings may not know they are in pain. Others may have noticed the pain within themselves but decided not to focus on it, because "What's the point: It's just one of those situations where we suffer, and there's nothing we can do about it. This is how life is. We're grown-ups, not naïve kids or neurotics, and we go on with our lives. Even more, 'We didn't know her personally.'"

President Obama, in his talk at the memorial ceremony on Wednesday, spoke about the little girl. After the talk he was praised for expressing a sincere upset, even a kind of agony. It was suggested his pain was real because he has two daughters. President Obama even had a proposal for how we, as members of a group of people, a nation (who, to one degree or another, are each feeling bad about this girl's death) might make ourselves feel better. He suggested we continue to argue with people we disagree with politically but to try to do so in a civil and respectful manner. Many found this to be a good suggestion. He also said that we should all try — each and every one of us — to become less cynical about politics and to resolve to live up to the girl's image of how Americans participate in government.

These ideas probably strike some people as "good ideas," and resolving to oneself to act in the future according to an ideal can certainly lead to a good feeling that can counter-act and over-ride inner pain. People often dedicate themselves to a cause after a shattering experience, so it seems the President's suggestions might help us, at least some of us. But there are many who will remember how their own New Year's resolution dissolve so quickly and easily and know they can not live up to any ideal for very long. Or they feel that, no matter how noble an idea is, it is still an ideal and so something mental and that it can never touch and heal a deep pain which is a feeling and not an idea. It is in this context that I give a brief dream someone told me today. The dreamer saw this little girl, and she was cooking various dishes, somewhat like Spanish tapas, and that she was feeding the dreamer, and that this food was wonderful. The dreamer felt good after the dream and felt the pain of the little girl's death had dissolved completely, and I felt better just hearing the dream. Looked at psychologically, we don't have to jump to a conclusion that the dreamer has somehow peered into the after-life and is seeing that the little girl is alive and well and that she is cooking special foods. But we can notice that the dream "moved" on the same level that the pain was lodged. The dreamer did not seek the dream and was not even aware that he was upset by the death at all. The dream made him aware of his pain and took it away at the same time. The dream was not an idea or a resolution to live up to, an ideal, or any thought at all about what we should or shouldn't do to honor the little girl.

It is interesting that President Obama, in his talk, went into this "realm" also. He said, "If there are rain puddles in heaven, Christina is jumping in them." I think this counts as a fantasy of the President (assuming he thought of it himself) and not a dream, but it shows he too may have felt his Call to Ideals had not gone deep enough. (The dream I presented has Christina, cooking delightful dishes for us, not jumping in rain puddles for herself.) We can imagine a president, perhaps one like Lincoln, who, in a situation like this, actually has a dream that he tells to the country and that helps many who hear it.

Some tribal cultures have formalized a process such as this: When a person (it could be anyone, not just the chief of the tribe) dreams about a topic that is important to each individual in the tribe, a meeting is called, and the dream is told to everyone. It may even be danced or re-enacted in some way. Perhaps the closest we come to this is our popular culture which includes movies and popular music. One problem with our approach is that it takes a long time: It may take a year or two until a movie comes out, and, even then, it may not make it to the theater or the T.V., or it may come out with the subtle resolutions changed or edited out.

So, for most of us, we are left with our individual solutions; and, if we do not have a dream, then maybe we will find ourselves making a resolution; and, if no dream or resolution comes to us, then we may wind up telling ourselves we have to "man-up" and stuff any pain and realize that there is no deep meaning that is real, no meaning at all, at least not for us, at least not now.