Saturday, September 11, 2010

In praise of the not-completely-natural reaction to bad news

I also started this blog so that I could say the things I felt like saying, but which I didn't want to inflict on particular people without their permission. The thing is, a blog does not HAVE to be read. Which is my way of apologizing if the following post seems out of character or upsetting to you.

So. Without further ado.

I have a close friend who was killed on Tuesday. The police are charging a man (whom I have met, though only briefly) with her death. I do not feel at all like discussing the details, but I don't mind everyone else's knowing them. If you want to know what happened, email or call me and I'll tell you my friend's name so that you can find what you can on your own.

I apologize for grieving you. I do not-- I cannot-- I am trying very hard not to focus on the violence inherent in this situation, but almost every time I tell someone else, I get this very natural response of shock and horror, and I have to say that I have gotten very much more firmly on the side of Miss Manners and King Benjamin: a natural response is not the best.

What do these natural responses sound like? "Oh, my GOSH! HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN?!" and "Are you sure it wasn't accidental?" (Yes, I am, and I'm also really sure that I don't want to explain why. I wasn't there, but I've heard enough of the police report to know that they have good reason to have that man in custody.) Also on my least-favorite list: "How are you? Are you OK?" I know I've said this one myself-- I've probably said all of these myself, and it isn't like I'm mad at the people who say these things, but it is true at the same time that I am discovering that they just aren't the greatest things to say.

Anyway, the problem with asking if someone is OK is that there does not exist a good answer to this question. For something this horrible, you can just assume that the answer is no: no, she probably isn't OK. It also doesn't really help her be more OK to keep having to figure out how to state her mental/emotional condition without overwhelming her listener (and possibly provoking more shouting, which was painful enough the first time around) while still being even remotely accurate. I have figured this one out, though: for a couple of days, I said either "I am sad,." or "I feel very sad," and now I'm saying "I'm OK," which is true at the moment.

And not-natural reactions? They are the ones where my interlocutor gently says something along the lines of, "Oh, I'm so very sorry." "Please tell me if I can do anything for you." "Call me if you need to talk." Or (only if it's accurate), "I had something like that happen to me once."

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