Monday, March 27, 2006
How does one person help another to heal? What words might be of aid? Are there any words that can truly console?
I write about a loss suffered by a person whom I have never actually met. As a matter of fact, I don’t even know his real name. However, I am saddened by his recent setback and I wish I had some way of providing him consolation. I know him only through his writing, but his writing has moved me to sadness and (much more often) to laughter. I have shared some private correspondence with this person and we have both expressed the feeling that we would probably enjoy a face-to-face meeting someday when circumstances allow. I guess we are the electronic equivalent of pen pals, but as far as is possible concerning someone I have never actually been in the same room with, I consider him a friend. I hope that what follows is helpful.
If you’re a regular reader of mine, then you know in what high regard I hold Magazine Man. He is exactly as I’ve billed him elsewhere on this page: The Best Writer On The Internet. His usual output is personal recollection filled with humor, written with a great attention to detail and an eye for the absurd. His stories are anecdotal masterpieces and I really don’t think it too much to compare him to Clemens in that regard.
Occasionally, as Clemens did also, he writes of pain or tragedy. And, like Clemens, he expresses his feelings clearly, succinctly, and without embarrassment concerning his loss. In my opinion, this is where a great writer sets himself apart from the mere humorist.
(I don’t particularly like using the term “mere humorist”. Someone who makes another laugh is doing the best of God’s work. I love humorists. It does seem the most apt way to make the distinction between two types of writers, though, so I’ll let it stand.)
What constitutes a “mere humorist”? The prime example that immediately comes to mind, for me, is Dave Barry. He is a wonderful writer, able to induce helpless fits of laughter, but he never strays more than a sentence or two from the joke. He, and other “mere humorists”, never write about pain unless it is as a base upon which to construct the painfully funny.
The other type of writer is not just a jokesmith. Clemens, though excruciatingly funny, wrote movingly and at length concerning the deaths of his daughter, Jean, and of his wife, Livy. He often imbued his fiction with great moral dilemma, a prime example being the “Alright, then, I’ll go to Hell!” soliloquy of Huck Finn. Another example would be Kurt Vonnegut. Though he almost always aims for a punch line, he consistently has an undercurrent of sadness present in his work, and it is the balancing act he performs between humor and angst that makes his writing so compelling.
An example of great literature (although perhaps not by a person one would normally consider a great writer) is Ball Four. It is, in my very humble opinion, the greatest book ever written concerning sports. The reason most of those that followed in its wake were such comparatively trite failures is because Jim Bouton (and his editor, Leonard Schecter) didn’t just bombard us with locker room humor, as the imitators did, but also considered the relative triviality of sport in comparison to the social issues of the day. The others that came after, purporting in blurbs to be more scandalous and revelatory, were filled with tell-all tales that told us nothing so much as the vapidity of the teller. They contained none of the heart and soul of the original.
As with all who create great literature, Magazine Man is willing to bare his heart and soul. He usually does this with great humor. His ability to provoke laughter is testified to by the many “I spit coffee onto my screen” comments left by readers of his blog. As mentioned before, most of his writings are anecdotal and, therefore, most concern his family. Journeying through his backlog, the reader is given tremendous detail concerning the psyches of, and interactions between, his relatives. We laugh, but a mental picture builds, detail upon detail, until the reader begins to truly care deeply not only about MM, but also about his wife, his children, his parents, his big brother, and even the good and faithful family dog, Blaze. Despite the dense construct of humor that pervades most of his tales, we come to know of the deep love that MM feels for all of those who have a place in his universe. We laugh, but we laugh with them, not at them. As a result, when MM writes concerning tragedy or loss, we - having invested ourselves fully into the happier tales - feel the sadness deeply as well.
It has been said that a friend is someone with whom you can be yourself. Magazine Man has made the conscious decision to unashamedly, and in comprehensive detail, be himself on the pages of his blog, even despite the maintenance of a nom de plume. By the above definition, he considers his readers to be his friends. And so we are. And so prayers and wishes of healing are given expression during this less-than-happy time. Friends would never do less.
The thing of it is, he has given us such a great quantity of joy, from allowing us to share in his family’s adventures, that we now find ourselves unable to adequately give back as much to him during his time of need. I know in my heart of hearts that I speak for all of his faithful readers when I say that we would gladly be willing to take his sadness and parcel it out amongst ourselves, in what would then be much much smaller and bearable portions, if we could. We can’t, though. Too bad.
So, in the end, what can one person do for another, to help that person to heal? What words can be offered in consolation? What might be said to truly help? I wish I knew. There isn’t any magic formula; otherwise it would have long ago become common knowledge. How could such a wonderful thing remain hidden? It would have been shouted from the rooftops.
I suppose – I guess - that the best anyone can do is to remind a person of their value; to help a person remember his worth to you and to others, and to let that person know that he or she is loved. Between friends, a big hug wordlessly conveys all of that. Lacking physical presence, words have to suffice. So, this is a virtual hug. I hope it helps a bit.
(I wrote this on Saturday. I am happy to report that MM has already put up an extremely funny entry since then. If part of the healing process is resumption of normal activity, then good for him. And for us.)