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Thoughts and Thickets - 3

A Blog By Carol Jeffers


The Pain of Sorrow


Shock? Sorrow? Outrage? Disgust? Empathy? What is it that any of us feels in the days and weeks following the crash of germanwings flight 9525 in the French Alps? We cannot say now, nor will we ever. How could we? Such feelings are too scrambled, their bodily resonances too amorphous. Yet they are what shape a collective thought clearly articulated around the world. “Why,” we screech in unison, even as our speculations fly. Would this have happened if...? If a flight attendant had stepped into the isolated cockpit? Or would the co-pilot’s maniacal fury have overpowered the unsuspecting victim?


So many “what ifs,” and we imagine them all. What if the pilot had relieved himself at the Barcelona airport just forty-six minutes earlier? What if the co-pilot had taken his illness seriously? Had followed doctor’s orders to stay home? Had followed a different dream? Our thoughts circle around the scenarios, and bring us back to the gut-wrenching, if un-nameable feelings we share. The lament echoes loudly still: “If only....”


This time, it is not just I, but we who wander in the thicket—though our trap is less of a briar patch inhabited only by the Tar Baby, and more of a rhizomic network writhing with countless connections. A little less thorny perhaps, but decidedly more tangled, this is the system that envelops us—and defines a human rhizome made dense and dark by our criss-crossing, cross-connecting thoughts and feelings. 


The botanical world offers us this metaphor, one based on close scrutiny of the underground networks of irises, bamboo, and crabgrass whose rhizomic roots and shoots reach out in the dark to find the nodes and make the connections that sustain the plants above. Each node, each connection allows for another and another, all promoting the healthy, if unruly growth of the system that is always in the middle of creating what Giles Deleuze and Felix Guattari might call a “unity in multiplicity.”


The pair of French philosophers use the botanical metaphor to envision post-Cartesian, or rhizomic knowledge that results when any thought--“data point”—is connected to any other. I, too, use the metaphor, most conspicuously in the opening chapter of  The Question of Empathy, my book-length manuscript  in progress. In those pages, the rhizome is meant to capture the cross-connecting selves and others that define communal ways of knowing and being (becoming).    


When the twenty-seven year-old co-pilot and secret psychiatric patient took all 150 souls aboard the Airbus A 320 to their deaths on March 24, 2015, a chunk was ripped from the rhizome. The gash hurts, not only because it tore roots and shoots—selves and others—apart, but also because the ways of becoming were destroyed with the nodes of connection. Now those who remain relatively intact are connected by a shared grief that comforts no one.


We ache for the ones closest to the gash’s edge who are left so raw and vulnerable, parents or children of the victims, their brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, along with the Spanish families who hosted the German exchange students. We might also think of the French recovery team that must re-claim bodies ruptured by the rugged terrain, and the German psychotherapists powerless to prevent the psychotic break.


Oh yes, the gash hurts, and all we want to know now is how long we must endure the pain of connection. What does it sustain, anyway? Certainly not our ways of becoming. Is life in the rhizome worth all this distress? How dare these strangers thousands of miles away hurt us with their pain? If only...


Entangling connections are complicated, to be sure, maybe even burdensome. They snarl and seem strong enough to choke us with their soul-crushing irony. We need only remember what happens when someone like the suicidal co-pilot severs ties, locks himself behind an impenetrable door, and rips free of the unruly network writhing with life. How much worse is the pain of disconnection--his and ours? What will it take for the roots and shoots to reach out, penetrate the darkness? Are we able, or even willing to find the nodes that would allow us to build stronger connections to those who choose not to be connected? What is the possibility of achieving a “unity in multiplicity?”

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