Think about the Dowager Countess of Grantham, marvelous Maggie Smith. When she doesn’t like something, she gets a face like a cat that’s smelled something bad. And you get the message.
If you read authors like Edith Wharton and Jane Austin, you know there’s not a lot of bellowing and stomping around. Hearts are broken, fortunes lost, people became ill, or bereaved, despondent or angry, and through everything, they all use their inside voices.
Compare that to, say, the last week on this blog, in which the volume on everything was turned up to 11 (although the comments remained civil and I thank you all for that). Daughter had to rant in public to make her point, Dad had to shoot a computer to make his point, I had to “hate” Dad to make my point. And I’m not generally a hater. But I got swept into what seems a trend of our time: anger that becomes superheated, superfast.
It’s not necessarily just that America is getting less civil. For some reason these days, it seems we need the volume on all our emotions cranked way up. Even negative emotions. Maybe especially negative emotions. We need to watch screen violence that is increasingly extreme, we need to fight our battles publicly and with insults and vehemence, and we need to grieve extravagantly, where everyone can see us.
Here’s a chilling news story, about a father who was texting while driving and rear-ended a pickup, killing one daughter and injuring the other.
This story makes me hyperventilate a little.
Then it makes me think about denial.
What is it that makes us do stupid things we know are dangerous? With all the information out there about the dangers of texting and driving, everything we hear about our brain’s inability to be effective at multitasking, all the highway fatalities we hear about daily, why do people still think they can text and drive? I can’t wrap my mind around that.
What is denial, really?
We know what it is, but what is it? I typed “denial” into a scientific journals database and results included articles on denial and cancer, heart disease, drug addiction, head injury, and one theoretical paper arguing that denial-like processes are at the core of the cognitive coping mechanisms we have evolved as humans.
Could be. Sometimes denial works for us.
As a little girl, I sometimes tried to imagine what it would be like to lose a loved one, and concluded I couldn’t survive it. (I was a dark little thing.) Though I lost my grandfather when I was a teen, it wasn’t until I lost a brother, when I was in my 20s, that I fully experienced loss. It was hard. Very. A long, dark tunnel that I traveled for a long, dark time.
And yet, somehow, eventually, I came out the other side. And strange as this might seem—and as much as I still miss Oliver—I emerged feeling I had gained precious insight into life, death, and myself.