Tag Archive | The New Yorker

More on Grief in the Media

Emily Stone, a good friend of the Bruisedmuse, directed me to an interesting New Yorker piece by David Sedaris, called “Journey into Night: Business Class Emotions.” The Sedaris essay tells of a night flight to Paris, during which a flight attendant asks David if she can move another passenger to sit beside him. The attendant explains that the man has lost his mother, and his crying is disturbing the other passengers. Sedaris says it would be all right to move him, and so the attendant brings the obviously bereaved man to sit beside Sedaris. Now I like the very popular Sedaris, who is often funny and thoughtful, and I even like the piece, particularly when I put on my literary hat.

When I put on my logic hat, I can’t help but wonder why the attendant believes the crying passenger will be any less disturbing to the passengers near Sedaris than to those sitting near his previous seat, but this is a minor point.

Ah, but when I put on my grief hat, I feel compelled to make a major point. I object. I need to point out that while it was lovely of Sedaris to allow the bereaved man to sit beside him, it was less than lovely to fail to offer even a single kind word to the man. And I find it somewhat bizarre that Sedaris admits this, almost smugly, in the New Yorker, and thus ends the piece with the following words:

I felt that I should say something, but what? And how? Perhaps it would be better, less embarrassing for him, if I were to pretend that he wasn’t crying—to ignore him, basically. And so I did.

Embarrassing? Is this a male worry or what? It certainly shows how little people, even popular writers, understand grief, and how little tolerance they have for it. Grief is often an uncontrollable flood. It’s not embarrassing; it’s human. The human thing would have been to understand.

I realize that this sort of ending probably satisfies a certain literary sensibility common to The New Yorker, and I’m certainly not one of those people who has drunk the Koolaid of thinking there might have been anything Sedaris could have said that would have helped ease this stranger’s pain. But still, he might have said something! “I’m sorry” would have been fine.  And THEN he could have ignored the bereaved man.

I also want to point out that Emily Stone, a wonderful writer, good friend, and highly thoughtful person, writes a great blog called ChocolateinContext. This blog goes down creamy, smooth, dark, and rich–perfect for chocolate lovers. I’m firmly in the vanilla camp myself, but I still love ChocolateinContext. I do have a certain compassion, in the Buddhist sense, for chocolate lovers. I feel their pain.