Sunday, October 18, 2009

When your personal world fills the screen

All of us focus on our own particular worlds, inevitably insulated to a certain degree from what’s happening in the larger world around us.

After publishing nine non-fiction books, I’m now writing a novel. I have followed the adage, write about what you know, so it’s a story about Naval aviators and their wives in the late sixties. Forty years later, those years are history, so I’m supplementing memory with some research.

And I find myself amazed at events that made headlines but seemed to pass me by at the time. For instance, in 1968 Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated. There were riots among cities’ black populations. Vietnam War protestors tangled in a bloody melee with the Chicago police at the Democratic Party convention.

But in 1968, my world was focused on my husband John, a Navy fighter pilot who was deploying on his second combat cruise to “Yankee Station” off the coast of Vietnam.

During my husband’s earlier deployment in 1967, his squadron had lost a fourth of their pilots, so there was a fearful awareness that our three young children could lose their daddy.

My attention was so focused on the personal impact that the Vietnam War had on my life that news of the murder of two national leaders failed to imprint me.

And at the end of August, 1968, my worst fears were realized: my husband was killed while flying a night mission, his body lost at sea. What did I care then about the Democratic convention? All I remember about the rest of that year is cataclysmic grief.

Isn’t this true for most of us? If there is a calamitous personal event --if your child dies or you get divorced or you or your spouse loses a job or you learn you have cancer—other world happenings fade into shadows “out there.”

No need to feel remorseful if you realize, months or years later, “Wow. How come I paid so little attention to [the earthquake in China, the hurricane in Mexico, the warring tribes in Pakistan, or…fill in the blank]

When trouble spills over in our lives, we must recover our own strength before we can find the strength and compassion to pay attention to the larger world.

The question is not, “What is happening out there?” but “How do I recover in here, in my heart and soul?”

1 comment:

Sarah Lemmon said...

Wow, that was really nicely put. I totally agree. I wonder if whether or not you realized it at the time, but the stress that was going on around you may have contributed to you and your children's stress as well?
I love the way you think and am comforted by your wise words and kind thoughts. Thanks Barbara!