2017 Was a Year of Mourning

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It’s the new year! Hey 2017. Good to see you.

I have a lot of friends who are not fans of 2016. I agree with them on many fronts about the dumpster fire of the last year. 2016 was objectively one of the hardest years I have ever had on a personal level. There was simply too much happening. Some of it was amazing, but some of it was truly horrible, and I cannot really process it all. For some people, 2016 was awful because of the election and celebrity deaths and large, communal events, things that didn’t appear to affect them personally but which they’ve reacted to anyway. Let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about what it’s like to have group experience that affect your perception of the world and the people around you.

I have seen some people shitting all over the idea that someone should be sad at the deaths of celebrities or at the election of Trump. These things don’t make an immediate impact. Other celebrities will die. Trump isn’t even president yet. 2017 will be worse. Just wait until their policies get enacted. Don’t complain, act! That’s not the RIGHT way to react to horrible things. 

I am not inclined to be particularly forgiving to anyone telling another person how to feel, but in this case, I think that naysayers have missed a major part of WHY others are reacting in the ways that they are and so I am particularly annoyed. One of the most common refrains that I’ve heard amounts to “get over it. It will just get worse so you need to toughen up and figure out how to deal with it.”

I have news for those naysayers: this communal outcry? The complaining, the jokes, the GIFs of a dumpster fire? That IS us getting used to it. It’s called grief and it’s a process, and 2016 was a year that was all about realizing that loss and cruelty are a part of our lives, then grieving for the reality we thought we knew. Grief happens in all kinds of ways. It’s not always rational, it’s not always clear, but it is necessary emotional work, and it will take time. People have to feel these emotions before they can move on to creating positive change.

I particularly want to focus on a brand of criticism that I’ve found frustrating and harmful. After Trump’s election a lot of people had a lot of feelings. Many people acted on those feelings in ways that made themselves feel more safe, or because they wanted to feel sure they would have birth control/be married/be able to get citizenship/whatever else they were worried about before Trump could make any changes. I have friends who moved up their wedding dates, people who invested in long term birth control, acquaintances who suddenly started volunteering and giving money at high levels. People are making changes. To some, this might appear rash. Trump isn’t going to take away marriage equality tomorrow, why are you having your wedding right now?

It’s true that in the sense of practical action, some of people’s behaviors aren’t necessary. People probably don’t need to worry about their healthcare disappearing the moment Trump gets sworn in, or about their marriages being annulled in a few weeks. Some of these behaviors might even be a little bit irrational in the strictest sense. I don’t really want to get in to a discussion of “how scared should people be”, because honestly it doesn’t even matter. These actions are serving a very important purpose that is completely separate from their existence as political actions.

People are doing things because they are sad and afraid. A world that they thought had existed is gone. They are mourning the loss of that world and the illusion of safety it had provided. Sometimes, when you are mourning, it is perfectly reasonable to do things just to make yourself feel better. You get to act irrationally, especially if it’s not hurting anyone and it makes you feel safer. You get to focus on yourself for a little bit.

When you understand people’s behaviors not necessarily as calculated political action but rather as personal grief, it makes a lot more sense, and hopefully can give us all a lot more patience with each other. Maybe things will stay as awful in 2017 as they felt in 2016. That’s certainly a possibility. But what I doubt will stay the same is the way people are behaving. Human beings require time to adjust to change, particularly unpleasant and difficult changes. 2016 was a year of realization for many people: the world is not what I thought it was. People are not who I thought they were. Death is a regular part of my life. Suffering cannot always be avoided.

2016 was a year of mourning those realizations and the loss of some hope and security that came from not believing those things. As we move into 2017, I hope we can start to grow from mourning to action. But I also want to recognize the people who are still coping, or still struggling to cope. Emotions move at their own pace. People feel and understand emotions differently from each other. None of us should be heaping shame and guilt on each other for the feelings we have about 2016.

I want to publicly witness your mourning. I want you to know that it’s ok. I want you to know that the fear and grief make sense. I want you to know that you aren’t alone. I want to recognize that there are moments in which communities collectively see and understand change, and that this isn’t just the same as usual, and maybe this is our new normal, but we take time to adjust to normal. It’s ok to feel like 2016 was a big and important year. Recognize those feelings. It’s the only way to move forward, and the only way to truly adjust to the world as it is. There’s no call for shaming each other.

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