John Green Pain and Joy

Pain Does Not Lead To Joy

I have been thinking too much about dichotomy.  The songs which swear, hand over heart, we don’t know happiness without sadness. The philosophers who contend we don’t appreciate something until it’s lost. That physics is in our souls so the most profound heartbreak must be followed by an equal and opposite joy.

I’ve thought about it more because in The Fault in Our Stars by John Green the main character, while dying, dismisses the notion.

John Green Pain and Joy

It seems to me appreciation for life and love only comes when pain and loss is felt in the short-lived, happy-ending moments. I appreciate my spouse more if he goes away for the weekend, but if he suddenly dies and goes away forever, will I appreciates my spouse and everyone around me with more truth or intensity?

The trade is certainly not even, and the world is not brighter for the loss. In reality, a profound heartache skews the world, creating a distrust, sometimes even a contempt, which colors both happiness and sadness. It either breaks us or we accept that the justice we clung to when stubbing our toe or reading CNN is non-existent. If we yield to this radical randomness, we appreciate the moments we feel “normal”, but we do not experience extreme happiness because we were beaten or neglected or raped or lost someone to illness or death.  The arc from depression to joy merely moves down the scale so the highs we appreciate are what those without broken hearts see as regular life.  The lightness others carry is a gift we give away to tragedy. Tragedy in the Shakespearian sense as well as a pileup on the interstate, which of course, is not a popular notion. Nobody wants degrees of hurt until someone compares their child to a dog or their cancer to bronchitis.

Beyond the touchy feely, all-in-it-together, life raft, is the fact that some of us are living in other people’s worst nightmares. How can we equate the pain of the parent who worries her child will be taken from her home and forced to carry a gun against the very country they live in to the parent whose kid fell off the swings and broke their leg, which was fixed in a state-of-the-art emergency room and covered by their health insurance. Will the latter come through appreciating their two-legged child and lack of broken bones and access to healthcare for the rest of their days? Perhaps the gratitude will wan over time in accordance with how difficult the ordeal was, but can we really expect the parent and child to come back from war exactly opposite of what it did to them? Bouncing down the path, excited to live. Or should we make room for them to be broken and hurt long past the time it takes for a broken bone to heal? Perhaps forever. Or that tragedies do not always not end in our lifetime thus this equal and opposite reaction can never begin for some of us? Do we dare to mention the haphazardness of being born in a village during wartime and not 3000 miles away in peace and comfort and jungle gyms?

I don’t mean to pretend to understand all of these individual experiences, but this dichotomy of loss producing gains of joy and wisdom and gratitude is as unfair as life turns out to be. It is a way to explain why we suffer to those who aren’t suffering. If there is a purpose to deep pain, we can shake off the dizzying notion that at any time, to anyone, terror can drag us from of our homes and set us adrift between diagnoses and the news cycle. We then explain away the sufferer, himself. We ask: What did the he do to deserve this? What hasn’t the sufferer done to fix it? Because if there are answers, those living with only little bumps in the road can avoid the worst, and those in the early stages of grief can find superficial comfort.

Eventually, these wise and happy sufferers have nobody to answer the hardest of questions: Why should we be the ones to learn how to appreciate life on a deeper level? We don’t want to live out people’s worst fears. We don’t want to be stronger than our friends and neighbors. We would rather trudge along oblivious except when a child scrapes his knee or a spouse is running unexpectedly late than have wide eyes to the reality that some of us are just grateful to now and then act and live normally while grief ebbs and flows below the surface. Even if broken hearts makes us more interesting or understanding, we would not choose it. All the depth of emotion we are given only serves to bury us, and when our hands reach up to through the surface, they are quickly shaken while mouths run along sing pithy songs and eyes betray a thankfulness, or worse, a knowingness, that it isn’t them.

Read More

American Horror Story

I Need An American Horror Story Bodyguard

I don’t watch horror movies because I can still picture Chucky’s face in this little peek-a-boo area of the basement stairs after I watched Child’s Play at a sleepover, and I think my insomnia started with A Nightmare on Elm Street because I still hear little kids’ singing:

One, two, Freddy’s coming for you.
Three, four, better lock your door.
Five, six, grab your crucifix.
Seven, eight, gonna stay up late.
Nine, ten, never sleep again

The last horror movie I attempted was The Ring, and I considered it an excellent Christmas gift that year JUST IN CASE.* *If you haven’t seen The Ring, this line makes no sense. If you have seen it, this line is pretty clever.

However, my husband notices American Horror Story on Netflix and thinks to give it a whirl while I am in the kitchen.

American Horror Story
Source: Wikimedia

Well, the blood curling screams draw me in and the anxiety attack keeps me barely able to move for the rest of the hour. My Facebook status while still able to type during the first 10 minutes is:

American Horror Story FB status
I’m watching American Horror Story for the first time. I’m three heart attacks in.

Scott actually turns off the pilot episode twice mostly because he isn’t sure if I am comatose, but I wake up just enough to yell at the black screen: NO, I must see it until the end.

Scott: But, why? Let’s just stop. It’s creepy and who cares.

Me: Because I will make up even more horrible endings and never sleep again.

I clearly don’t know what I’m talking about because, no, I would’ve never come up with a stranger, more terrible ending, middle or beginning of a show, and my imagination can turn a creak of my cat on the floor board into a twisted serial killer in two pounds of my heart.

When the show finally releases me from its maniacal grip, Scott stands up, shrugs a bit and says: Well, that was weird. You let the dog out, and I’ll go upstairs to check on the kids.

I jump up and reply: You mean WE will let the dog out and then WE will check on the kids.

Following Scott around
This is as far as Scott is allowed to be at all times Friday night. He finds it ENDEARING.

However, I wake up the next day nightmare-free and check my calendar. Scott isn’t scheduled to travel for the next six months so I say: Ready to watch episode two tonight?

Scott: What? No. I’m never watching that show again.

Me: But I need to know what happens and I can’t watch it by myself. Oh and I’ll need to follow you around for hours afterwards ever time.

Scott: I have no interest in watching it. The show wasn’t uplifting.

Me: As opposed to The Walking Dead?

Scott: I didn’t like that show at first either.

Me: But you did EVENTUALLY.

Suddenly, a plan begins to form. I think back to all your Facebook replies to my American Horror Story vague cry for help status update because you always have answers to my problems.

Me: Alison reads the episode guides because the show gave her nightmares.

Scott: Awesome, I’m going to read those to you right now.

Me: NO! I might still convince you to watch with me. Just read a few and be intrigued.

Scott pulls up the synopses on his phone and within minutes yells: OMG!

Me: What is it? Does this mean you’ll watch it now?

Scott: No, never. But there’s a huge plot twist in season one.

Me: I hate you. Fine, can I watch the show again be myself or will I die?

Scott: Um, you’ll die.

So… who wants to come over and watch an episode of American Horror Story with me through my fingers followed by me trailing behind you for 2-3 hours until I’m calm enough to not have a bodyguard? Then we’ll all go to sleep in our respective beds and meet up again tomorrow night to do it all over again!

Okay, maybe I can see why Scott quit this job.

Read More