The Luxury of Magical Thinking
12 05 05
Recently Joan Didion won the National Book Award for her
glowingly reviewed book, THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING. After
reading the reviews and hearing what commentators had to say
about the book the praise was lavish I went online and ordered
the book. I am awaiting delivery.
The book chronicles the period of Joan Didions life at the
time of the death of her husband which coincided with the
life threatening illness of her daughter.
After the book was finished, her daughter died, tragically.
A friend of mine read the book and called the year of magical
thinking done by Didion as really a year of madness, induced
by grief. It is something which I have given some thought
to since I read the first review of the book, which seems,
indeed, magical in its ability to articulate the emotions
that course through the human spirit when confronted with
profound loss. Having read excerpts, I am eager to consume
Grief is consumptive, eating away the insides of the body
and the mind and, in my experience, personally and observationally,
a kind of madness does fall upon the human being experiencing
it. We go on; even when everything in our soul screams; getting
up in the morning, performing functions, straightening up,
showering and shaving and eating bits and pieces even when
it is impossible to remember what bits have been consumed.
In the time since I first heard about THE YEAR OF MAGICAL
THINKING, I have also continued following the news and from
afar have witnessed the continuing tragedies of our world.
Bangladesh has now experienced its first suicide bombing.
In Iraq, the blasts continue, with a daily mounting of the
death toll of both Americans and natives. Around Baghdad,
too, there has been an increase in abductions. A German archeologist
has been seized as well as members of a Christian Aid group,
people of all ages and professions. These poor folks have
been accused of being spies of the occupiers in other words,
To have the time to plunge deep into the anarchy of grief,
to have the financial resources to not be forced back into
the world before you want, to have the intellect and emotional
sensitivity to process deep grief is a great luxury and unavailable
to almost everyone in the world.
Ms. Didions loss[es] are tragic and I am grateful she has
had the luxury of time, financial resources and, above all,
the intellect to process the magical madness that follows
loss. It has provided a beautiful and stunning addition to
the canon of her literature while providing her readers with
profound insights based on her experience.
Yet, at the same time, my mind has been full of wondering
about others in this world that also are faced with inconceivable
loss and stress. I think of photos on the front page of our
newspapers showing hysterical women who have lost husbands,
brothers, sons, daughters, relatives in one sudden mad blast.
The photos have been from Baghdad, London, Madrid, New York,
Delhi, and all the other cities targeted by the coolly mad
men who see and believe that casual, random, unearned death
is both the door to paradise and the road to freedom.
My heart aches for anyone who is caught in the inevitable
and yet always unique experience of personal grief due to
the loss of those we love. My soul groans for those who are
forced to deal with it due to the unnatural causes that have
locked their arms around our world in these grim days.
Was there a moment before 9/11 we felt the world was finally
moving on some peaceable track or was that thought a mere
illusion of our post Cold War hope? The latter I suspect.
We are now living, I suspect, in a world that is moving out
of all illusions and we will need to deal with the dark realities
of our own current age. It is not pretty and in that lack
of beauty there is wisdom to be learned from magical thinking,
if we will turn our magic to our collective national experience
as well as personal events.