The Year of Magical Thinking

>> Thursday, August 23, 2007

"Life changes fast.
Life changes in the instant.
You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.
The question of self-pity."
This is the first book from my book club that I've finished since last year. I was only half finished last Saturday when we had book club, but I finished today. A small victory in that since I haven't been able to finish much of anything lately like settling into my new apartment.

I don't have much to say on the book itself. It clips by so easily. She writes so clearly like you're stuck in the circles of her head yet they keep moving at comfortable pace. When I was reading the first half on Saturday afternoon, all I could think about was how I am not looking forward to my parents passing away some day.

I found her mentioning the changes in way Western society grieves and mourns in the past century quite interesting. It seems to be a sign that modern life has become less respectful of people.

"Death so omnipresent in the past that it was familiar, would be effaced, would disappear. It would become shameful and forbidden." -- Philippe Aries, Western Attitudes toward Death: From the Middle Ages to the Present.

"The English social anthropologist Geoffrey Gorer, in his 1965 Death, Grief, and Mourning, had described this rejection of public mourning as a result of the increasing pressure of a new "ethical duty to enjoy oneself," a novel "imperative to do nothing which might diminish the enjoyment of others." In both England and the United States, he observed, the contemporary trend was "to treat mourning as morbid self-indulgence, and to give social admiration to the bereaved who hide their grief so fully that no one would guess anything had happened."

Mr. Gorer's observation reminds me of the changes in American and British society mentioned in The Century of Self documentary but that is entirely another subject.

As I was reading the second half this week, I was really struck by how she clocked the time before and after her husband's death. Even little things and occurrences don't escape her.

It reminds me of the car accident I had almost two years ago. In fact, the two year anniversary of it has been on my mind precisely because of how it affected my life. I haven't felt as if my life was on track like it was prior to the accident. It took six months for me to get my sense of thinking back afterwards. It's not the easiest thing to describe because I couldn't remember. I couldn't think. I could only focus on getting the bare basics of my life accomplished for six months.

After I got "my brain" back, it wasn't as if I could remember, "Oh, this is what it is like to be me. This is what I do. This is what I want to accomplish in life." No, I spent several more months in a state of suspension. Going through the motions. Losing all my drive.

I know now that had I not had that car accident my life would be different. My finances would be better. I probably would have left the job I currently still have that same fall, now almost two years later. Whatever middling control of my life I had then I have had to struggle to regain piece by piece.

I actually do understand part of what she says when she says, "The question of self-pity."

I know now that I absolutely have to find a new job this fall. I cannot stay where I am. I finally will be able to change something I've always dreaded.

"Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant."


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