This is part of #theimpossible series
The Impossible Will Take A Little While, Chapter 2, an excerpt from Jonathan Kozol’s Ordinary Resurrections
The second piece seems to endlessly run through a list of almost unbearable tragedies suffered by St Ann’s parish in the South Bronx, before I find what I’m looking for.
A six year old boy was killed in a house fire–according to the other schoolchildren, he had gotten out but returned for his teddy bear and got stuck inside.
“But the story of the boy who died to save his bear, as children in the neighbourhood insisted that he did, retained a special meaning for the children, and a sense of closeness–even, possibly, an element of moral glory–that the other tragedies did not … The notion that he’d tried to save his bear and that the two of them, the boy and his bear, had been consumed together, may have softened the effects of grief and given the illusion of a purpose to the purposeless.
Miss Rosa later spoke with me about the way children build these small mythologies, and why they do, and why a grown-up shouldn’t look too hard into these pieces of belief. Like Mother Martha, she resisted my attempts to clarify the ‘truth’ about the boy and bear. I’m glad the children have these women to defend and honor the epiphanies they weave around the unacceptability of grief.”
I love that it doesn’t matter if the story is actually true, but only that it shows us other truths. There is no shame in protecting ourselves from pain.
But I get stuck on the recognition of “the unacceptability of grief.” I know that in some (including Anglo Protestant) cultures grief is something to ultimately be overcome, but it never occurred to me that we might purposely weave tales that allow us to live with our grief for longer, or with greater intensity and in more generous spaces, than is considered socially acceptable.
This personal epiphany is undoubtedly tied to my current grief over the loss of a loved one, and my sometimes-anger that I’m not able to share it without a certain amount of dismissal or disapproval. (The very notion that some lives are considered ungrievable is very troubling to me, and I’m reminded that my personal lamentation isn’t done.)
So what if hope is to be found not in eliminating tragedy or suffering, but in explicitly welcoming–and approving–grief? What kind of stories can we tell that expand, or transform, our grief? How can these (new) myths bear witness and embody hope?