Wednesday, August 25, 2021

"How is JJ Doing These Days"?

If you ever read this blog, you might be wondering, "How is JJ doing these days?"

When it comes to my physical and mental health and my overall emotional state, I guess all I can say about myself in these times of so many personal and familial changes is: "I don't know."

"How am I 'doing' after this Summer, and indeed after a year and a half sharing with everyone else the common stresses and strangeness of the COVID pandemic?" Well, generally speaking, I'm no worse off than anyone else in the "First World." I have had my fair share of human uncertainties and worries about my own and my family's health and security in these months. We who live in the world's "rich countries" are being confronted - in a particularly persistent fashion - with the fact that no amount of wealth and power (nor even the now-abundant access to apparently effective preventive resources and treatments for this new disease) can solve the overarching "problem" of our own radical fragility, our susceptibility to suffering in ways beyond our control, and all the inevitable emotions entailed by this vulnerability that we have become accustomed to forgetting about while living lives of wildly unprecedented material prosperity.

I say "WE" here, not as a rhetorical contrivance, but because I too need to be shaken out of my own illusions of the "collective self-sufficiency" and omni-competence of the technologically advanced society I live in. I am grateful, of course, for the progress we are making in the fight against COVID, and I hope we will share our resources with the poorer places in the world, out of a sense of human solidarity, fraternal love, justice and equity, and respect for human dignity. This will draw us closer together as brothers and sisters who love and care for one another, who treat one another with mercy and compassion.

Nevertheless, even in the best case scenario, no medical advances will ever "overcome" the fundamental human drama (the mystery) of living within time, within limits, living with suffering, incapacity, loss, and death.

This may all seem like a tangent diverting far from your question ("How are you, JJ?"), but it's actually all tied together because this is how my brain works. I'm always thinking (over-thinking) about everything, finding the connections between my problems and the problems of the world, searching for the bigger context, trying to understand, and worrying because I can't figure out how to fix everything. (Well, I worry less than I used to....)

Nothing new about me living with my "beautiful mind" (and you can read more about that in my 2010 book - which can be ordered by clicking HERE - or in numerous previous posts about mental illness and mental health ranging over the past ten years of this blog - click HERE to see some of those).

My emotions are still all over the place. We are making the slow inventory of my parents' possessions. So many things - large and small - they had since the earliest days I can remember, from furniture (which they used all my life and in three different residences) to boxes and business cards and jewelry and all sorts of little accessories. The smallest object, such as a pin, can suddenly stir up a vivid - almost tangible - memory from over forty years ago. There are so many memories that I don't even know I still have, and even when they are "bittersweet" it seems that eventually the weight tips more to the "sweet" side, from which we receive an unexpected sustenance. This must be why people give useless gifts to one another, why things are cherished as souvenirs, "keepsakes," and - eventually - heirlooms.

What kind of people are we becoming, who consume or use-and-discard such huge quantities of material things without a thought? It's more than "wasteful." We lack memory. We are constantly distracted and afraid of commitment. But it's a hard world to live in, where our constantly increasing power pushes and pulls us relentlessly like a raging river flooding its banks, carrying us ever faster without our having any idea where we want to be or hope to go. Life is more disorienting and traumatic in many ways today. But it's still worth living in a human way, building fruitful, committed relationships with one another, and living with a sense of purpose that is worthy of our humanity even as we face new challenges, so as to pass on to the new generations a richness of awareness that will prepare them to meet the unprecedented challenges of the future.

That reminds me: Maria is sleeping in the same crib her father and his sisters slept in as babies. There are probably fancier cribs available today but this one is pretty good. It's safe, sturdy, useful enough... It certainly has gotten a lot of use, and it has a lot of memories attached to it. Now, with Maria, those memories stretch forth new branches, new hopes.

So, how am I? Do you think I'm trying to evade the question? I'm not; I'm just rambling about it a bit, because it's a question that intersects with many things. 

I am full of gratitude and hope (really), which coexist with lots of feelings of different kinds, some of which are part of a long-standing psycho-pathology that I will never entirely eradicate, and that I will always have to attend to "day-by-day" (again, see those links above to read more about these particular problems).

I also get anxious and depressed in more conventional ways about the things that trouble us all, and I wring my hands about "this-crazy-world-we-live-in" (and which Maria and [God willing] our other future grandchildren will have to grow up in and live in long after our time is complete😳).

It has been hard seeing my parents die in the last two years. I was very close to both of them, and they were with us for a long time. I'm so grateful we had them nearby, and that our kids grew up knowing them. My heart goes out to so many people who have lost their parents in tragic circumstances, or while they were still young.💔 I cannot imagine how hard that must be. I feel a little silly referring to my own grief, which in any case is not complicated by any special trauma or catastrophe. 

Really, I don't understand grief. It's a strange experience, which I "notice" in different forms but can't really analyse in a coherent way. I miss Dad and Mom, but I also don't feel "too far removed" from them. In this regard, faith in Jesus and our continued common belonging to the communion of His Church are a true source of consolation and sustenance.

Meanwhile, Maria has burst into our lives and brought us lots of joy. I hope to write more about being a grandfather in future posts. (There will at least be pictures.)

I have aches and pains, but I manage. I get tired very easily, still. I miss my usual walks. July and August are just too humid for me to get around much outside. But I have plenty of books at home, and tools for creative expression. Regarding the latter: even if my rather undisciplined artistic explorations amount to nothing worthwhile, I feel the need to work in this aesthetic manner, like I used to feel it when I was a child. Though I find it to be absorbing and fascinating activity, I don't worry about it too much.

September is coming soon, with cooler weather. As I grow older, I find that I am more inspired and more at peace with the splendors of Autumn. They are awesome yet gentle, and in my part of the world they linger graciously and have time enough to tell us their own special secrets.