Never, since man has walked upright, have people all over the globe had more educational advantages or more opportunities to practice advanced social and interpersonal skills. And yet, for the most part, we still have not learned to look past the obvious, to see beyond the exterior shell of our fellow man, and to discover the worth of the real person.
We seem consumed by the superficial. We worry incessantly (to the tune of billions of dollars every year in "cures" and "helps") about being too fat, too thin, too tall, too short, too old, too young.
Men are worried about their hairlines or their baldness, or they dwell on the size of their shoulders. They build their biceps, often at the expense of their brains. Consider athletes who are so determined to win that they will sacrifice their futures for anabolic steroids. That's buying the "dream" but paying for it with a life.
Women wear bigger shoulder pads to offset the width of their hips, and they're nervous about their bra sizes. They'll sacrifice on groceries to have acrylic fingernails or a tan in the dead of winter. And everyone is fussing about their hair. It's too long, too short, too curly, too straight, too dark, too light, too fine, too coarse. So, by the millions, we're having everything changed to something it isn't.
Plastic surgeons, the executives of some big cosmetic companies, and owners of spas and gyms are living opulently in mansions and on yachts, and it's all being paid for by our national craziness about what we look like.
Sometimes we tell ourselves that our concerns are for health reasons, but I suspect if we took an honest survey, the results would be heavily in favor of vanity over verve.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm in favor of people doing the best they can with whatever they've got, and I'm just as guilty as the next person about a lot of the things I've mentioned. I just have a growing concern about our national obsession with unrealistic objectives.
Marriages and relationships are being dissolved over a few pounds of extra weight. The emotional stability of an awful lot of children is being uprooted and replanted in the soil of commercialism. We're so hooked on "beauty," we're missing basics.
So what does all this have to do with grieving? Well, undue concern over the external is basic to the issue of grieving. If our society is uncomfortable with someone who is scarred, disfigured, overweight, flat-chested, bald, or otherwise "different," how much less do they want to encounter someone who is in deep emotional pain?
We have become conditioned to wanting to live in both an emotional and physical "Disneyland." But remember, nobody really lives at Disneyland. It's just a fun diversion, not a substantial reality.
We seem to have forgotten how to appreciate the values of self-sacrifice, patience, and personal integrity-the things that made this country great in the first place. Our national victories originally came out of immense suffering and sacrifice, dedication to ideals, determination against unbelievable odds, a willingness to persevere no matter how long it took-not to mention the qualities of faith and hope. Betsy Ross didn't need to look like Jessica Simpson and Nathan Hale didn`t have to be Rob Lowe! There were no television or movie screens to make fantasy dilute reality.
If we weren't so afraid of confronting reality without its makeup, maybe we could produce a culture much less afraid of supporting and comforting people who are hurting. Maybe, if we could stop peddling quite so fast on the exercise bike, we'd have a chance to discover who we really are and what really matters to us.
My own realities have taught me to catch myself short whenever I'm tempted to avoid someone or something that is un-beautiful at first glance. It's become almost a challenge to make myself take a closer look at both people and situations. It's not really such a noble thing to do, and I've been rewarded beyond my wildest imagination in the treasures I've discovered. People are truly amazing, and they can have so much of value to share if we will just stop, really look, and really listen.
If you haven't done so already, give yourself a gift. Watch for souls instead of bodies. Mine a nugget or two of joy and love by daring to dig below the surface. Remember, Tammy Faye might be really beautiful underneath all that "stuff."
And you're beautiful, too. Enhance the beauty in you that really matters, because it's the beauty that was seen by the person, now absent, who unconditionally loved you and who may see you now from a very different vantage point.
Good Grief Resources (http://www.goodgriefresources.com) was conceived and founded by Andrea Gambill whose 17-year-old daughter died in 1976. Almost thirty years of experience in leading grief support gropus, writing, editing, and founding a national grief-support magazine has provided valuable insights into the unique needs of the bereaved and their caregivers and wide access to many excellent resources. The primary goal of Good Grief Resources is to connect the bereaved and their caregivers with as many bereavement support resources as possible in one, efficient and easy-to-use website directory.