Monday, December 15, 2008

December, 2008 "On Gloom"

The word “gloom” is onomatopoeic, like “crash” or “bump.” Just listen to that nauseous initial “gl,” followed by the prolonged mournful “oo.” And no sooner are you over that than “m” closes down like a trap, sealing you in a dingy space from which there is no escape.


Gloom lacks the nobility of sorrow, the romanticism of melancholy. It is often paired with “doom,” to reinforce the essence of all bad moods, which is to seem inescapable and eternal.


Gloom is the predominant color of this season, even in places where the sun shines year-round, like Florida and California. The entire planet is swimming in a soup of gloom. I would not be surprised if astronauts looking earthward saw, instead of that bright blue marble, a lump the color of dirty snow.


Gloom in the news, gloom in our hearts. I don't remember a period of such pervasive, national gloom. I missed the Great Depression and WWII, but I was fully present during the assassinations of the 60s. There was sorrow then, lots of it, and fear. And during the Vietnam war there was anger, succeeded by the disgust of the Watergate years. And then there were the enormous sorrow and fear caused by 9/11, not to mention the outrage felt by many towards the political scene. But it was different from the gloom of now, the gloom of all.


Perhaps it's because few things touch us as intimately, as directly as money--that's a gloomy thought right there. If there is someone who hasn't been affected by the state of the economy, I don't know who it is.


But I have cheerful news: it could be worse. We could be in a civil war!


I know because my parents—my mother was in her teens, my father in his early 20s-- lived through the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). My father lived with his family in Barcelona, my mother with hers in the country (they didn't meet until years after the end of the war). When the war began they were plunged into instant poverty, cold, hunger (though my mother escaped the hunger part--she lived on a farm), and terror. My father drank quarts of water before going to bed, to assuage hunger pangs. My mother remembers rushing out in the middle of the night to hide in a nearby creek to escape bombing raids. She and her siblings wore a small stick on a string around their necks to put between their teeth when the bombs fell, to keep their teeth from shattering. My father did not go outside his parents' apartment for three years, to avoid execution for having belonged to a Catholic youth group.


With the end of the war came the end of the terror, but the lack of food, electricity and infrastructure went on for years. Yet in the midst of that grey, gloomy time, my parents found each other, fell in love, got married, and produced me. They were poor, but so was everybody, and in comparison with the time of bombs and midnight executions, life was good.


In comparison with my parents' war years, my present life is idyllic. Things will have to get immeasurably worse before they can begin to match what they endured. In the end, economic woes can always be remedied by human kindness--you give your neighbor an egg and tomorrow she gives you a ride. But when human bonds dissolve, as they do in civil war, then it truly is hell on earth.


So when the days of gloom are upon us, I put my hopes on kindness and fellow-feeling, and trust that as long that holds, we can deal with whatever comes.


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