Sometimes I feel as though I tell you more than I tell some of my good friends. Perhaps it’s because I have this rule that my emails have to be under 5 sentences — or I simply would not be able to keep up with them. As a sidenote, I don’t think Mariann has ever written an email in her life that was more than 5 words, let alone sentences! There is a beauty, and a productivity, to terseness. (Mariann could write a book about it, but then again, maybe it should just be a tweet.)
#PRIVATE# The truth is, I am still very much in the depths of despair over the loss of my grandmother, Sherrey Glickman. It’s not something I talk about regularly, but it is very much the umbrella over my life right now, casting its very specific shadow on everything I do. (If anyone has any suggestions on things to read or watch that deal with managing grief, I am very interested.)
In my quest to watch/read/learn/absorb all I can about grief, in an effort to make some kind of sense of it and find some kind of solace in others’ words and experiences, I came across a TedxBrighton talk by Dr. Geoff Warburton entitled “The Adventure of Grief.” (I’m going to embed it below this letter, in case you’re interested in watching it — it’s about 20 minutes long, and well worth the watch.) Dr. Warburton’s point was basically that we should use grief and loss to ultimately thrive. He pointed to the experiences of his two grandmothers — both of whom had undergone significant amounts of loss in their lives (as did my grandmother, who was twice widowed). Dr. Warburton explained that one of his grandmothers was always angry about the losses she suffered, and used that anger and pain to dictate the rest of her life, whilst the other one (who sounded very much like mine) used her losses to feel more fulfilled. Odd concept, I know. One thing my grandmother told me, which I mentioned during her eulogy in November, was that she didn’t look at it as though she lost those people; she looked at it as though she’d had those people. I want very much to eventually wind up with that positivity, but at the moment, I’m in too much anguish over losing one of the two people in the world I am closest to, who (along with Mariann) loved me the most, who got me through and through. Dr. Warburton explained that the best possible thing we can do while going through grief is to really, truly go through it. To feel it. To cry it out. To experience it. And, under no circumstances, to suppress it.
Here’s why I wanted to tell you this: Not because I feel at all qualified to school anyone on the ins and outs of grief (in fact, feel free to school me), and not because this is a cry for help (though I cry plenty, I can assure you that this isn’t a cry for help). Rather, there was something that Dr. Warburton talked about that made me feel — and made Mariann feel — as though it directly pertained to animal rights activism. (Yeah — ha ha — I know; for us — all of us, really — what doesn’t?)
In his point about feeling it, Dr. Warburton said that grief eventually puts you in an “emotional abyss,” and that “you need to feel that emotional abyss — you need to let that abyss swallow you.” He made the point that if you repress all of the negative emotions, you’ll never get the positive ones.
Let that abyss swallow you, eh? Does this remind any of you of your initial entree into the world of animal rights? Into learning the hideous truth of what happens to farmed animals behind closed doors? I myself remember standing in front of a corner hot dog stand, crying! (Not my most charming moment.) But the point is, perhaps there was indeed a role for my weeping in front of that hot dog stand? Perhaps that was what Dr. Warburton means when says you need to feel it? Had I suppressed it, is it possible that I also would have suppressed the omnipresent truth of animal cruelty? Could I have become — egad! — complacent?!
Maybe I’m just Jasminizing this Tedx talk a bit too much, transferring the subject of grief for my grandma to the subject of my life’s mission, because it’s easier somehow (at the moment anyway) to cope with the loss of 267 chickens a second (in the U.S. alone!) than to cope with the loss of SHERREY GLICKMAN. (IN CAPS.)
But, no, maybe I’m not transferring what this doctor said at all. Because here’s the clincher. This is the part that really made me sit up and take notice and say, “Holy shit, he’s talking about animal rights activism!” According to Dr. Warburton:
Close off the experience of the abyss, and you close off the flow of life. Here’s the thing: Block that anger, and you block your vitality. Block that fear, and you’ll block your excitement. Block that deep emotional pain, and you’ll block your access to compassion. Even block your hatred, and you’ll block your access to peace. Block your experience of that abyss, and you will block access to the depths of who you really are, and the energy that’s gonna take you forward.
So my lesson here is twofold. And for those of you who, like me, are dealing with grief over a loved one, yours might be too. When it comes to our own personal grief over loved ones, we need to stop judging ourselves, and start allowing our walls to come down. We need to be ugly, to be meditative, to be nonsensical, to be suffering. Because — and this next part is truly a guess — only if we do that, I’m told, can we get to the next part — the part where we allow ourselves to become exceptional. And to have exceptional lives.
The second part of the lesson here is for all of us. If you’re reading this, then you’re in the flock, and you want as badly as I do to see a new world for animals that is free of animal suffering. And if you’re like me, these thoughts permeate your life. And you do what you can, how you can, when you can, to change the world for them. So if we’re going to take what Dr. Warburton has to say about grief and apply it to changemaking, we need to remember this: Sometimes it’s going to suck. And that is completely OK. It is understandable, and it is allowed. If you feel infuriated by the death machine that is animal agriculture, then feel it! If you feel despair, that is normal (though I should note that at a certain point you should get a therapist). The point is, feel. Feel deeply and profoundly and passionately and vehemently. And, if I’m understanding this correctly, only after we feel will we be able to truly embrace our true selves, our true activist selves. And it’s not as though the pain will go away — poof! — and then, bam, we can move on to being-our-true-selves. No. With activism, in my experience, it will be cyclical. We will feel sorrow, and we will be inspired. Sometimes they will co-exist, sometimes they will not. But do not ever shut yourself off from these feelings, because that, it seems, is when things become dangerous.
The beauty of animal activism, of changing the world for animals, and — IMHO — of Our Hen House, is that there is always a positive angle to focus on. Even amidst the suffering happening right now for animals, there is so much good to focus on. That is why I have been an animal rights activist for 10 years — making it my entire life. That is why I will always do this, because I don’t only focus on the sadness (the crying in front of the hot dog stand), but I also focus on the triumphs, the possibilities. And if I’m understanding this correctly, the reason I focus on those is because I have “let that abyss swallow me,” and from time to time, I still do. That is what it means to feel, and, ultimately, to thrive.
(Oh my god. I hope with everything I am that I can make this work for my grandma-grief, too.)
If you feel like sharing, I would love to know what you think of this.