Thursday, February 11, 2010

Teaching Resilience to Future Alexanders

The maddening thing about learning that fashion designer Alexander McQueen had taken his own life was not just the notion that someone learns suicide from significant others. It certainly must have been hard for McQueen to deal with the suicide of friend Isabella Blow, and the death of his mother. The frustrating thing is trying to spread the message to the desperate that we're all feeling this blanket of exasperation and despondency from time to time, yet those of us who choose our crash helmets carefully can still find the right flowers to focus on. It is a beautiful universe, even for the sentient, and we fail every time we don't get that message out.

It seems like the important balancing act to fall back upon is to live by Richard Buckner's reminder that "kindness calls you out," while being willing to be surly and anti-social enough to speak truth to power when necessary. In the 21st century, there is no civility left to achieve that balance. Terry Tempest Williams, who just started writing a monthly column for The Progressive magazine, argues for the return of the dinner party as the place for civility. Perhaps she's right, but I keep dredging up images of dysfunctional Thanksgivings and "The Dinner is Ruined." Personally, I'd always prefer to stay at the kids' table. But if forced to break bread in the company of grownups, I think it's important to occasionally say (in a civil manner, mind you), "Your opinions indicate you're mentally disturbed, and you really should seek mental help."

What does this have to do with McQueen? A failure to leaven a universal kindness and a mad love affair with the world with an occasional brash tactic can lead to a despair that wins out in the end. This century is going to be tough, folks. We all need crash helmets. The failure of humans to be good stewards will bite us back over the coming decades, and it's important to optimize tactics for being a snarly lover of your surroundings. As Conan O'Brien warned us in his final show, that does not mean living as a cynic. It means living as though kindness could win, as though something you did mattered. Even if you don't believe it, using resilience to mimic a passionate embrace of life is better than living like Alexander McQueen. And letting kindness call you out might prevent another McQueen somewhere.


Ruth said...

Ohh this is wonderful and made my eyes well up.

We gotta keep talking, writing, singing, designing, drawing, photographing, listening.

Bless you.

Loring Wirbel said...

I'm absolutely certain your work has saved someone, Ruth. And when you find out that was the case, you can salute smartly and say, "Then my work here is done." Except, of course, it never is.

Ruth said...

Your comment (oh wouldn't it be wonderful to save someone) reminded me of - was it Marilu Henner, from the TV show Taxi, who was about to commit suicide? She woke up, it was going to be the last day. She had left the TV on all night. She woke up to Mister Rogers saying, "I love you, I care about you." And she changed her mind.

Ruth said...

Or was it Lauren Tewes?

Loring Wirbel said...

Clueless! Great story, though.