Chartreuse Knits

Where a college student learns--and struggles with--the zen of knitting. It's the process, not the product, though the product is much more fun to wear!


How do you Angst?

Everyone has their share of troubles in life, right? We all deal with death at some point, we all deal with loss, and only a minority of people are strangers to tragedy. And even so, with all this hardship, our lives are considerably easier, less grim, and, some would say, less traumatic than those of our predecessors. Gone are the days when we would give little girls coffins with their dolls, so that they could play "funeral" in addition to "wedding" or "house." Gone are the days when smallpox ravages entire villages, and no one is safe from a torturous, painful death. It is an anomaly to have a woman die in childbirth, and infant mortality rates are a meagre percentile of what they once were. We have more property, overall, than at any other point in history. We can travel and communicate at speeds unheard of until the past century. Gone are the days (mostly) when entire communities would lose their men in war, leaving countless widows and orphans in their wake. Gone are the days (in our culture at least) when women and men were unequal, and marriages were arranged. Now we can marry for love (multiple times, even) and women enjoy unprecedented status and wealth alongside men. And finally, we live in a time when one of the greatest afflictions that our poor face in this country is obesity, that is, an excess of food.

These changes in our way of life in a single century raise various questions: Were people in the past more preoccupied with life, and therefore happier since they knew death and suffering was a part of life? Are we weaker, both emotionally and physically, and can we sustain this life with our ingenious, though artificial, means of support? If we were to revert to a more primitive time when machinized artillery was nonexistant, how many of us would be strong enough to wield swords, or in times of peace, labor under the sun with our beasts of burden, tilling the earth to survive? What does this do to our status as a species, if it becomes increasingly easier to have weak, sickly, and ill people live longer? I know that sounds very harsh, but what I mean is, it allows people who otherwise would die to have a great chance at life. Yet when Natural Selection can't take place, what happens?

It would seem that as our physical chances for survival increase, we tend to be weaker emotionally. Since we don't deal with massive epidemics or the destruction of our life as we know it as often as other people did in their lifetimes, what is it that causes us modern people to break? Do we simply not deal with death the way our ancestors did? Do we reach an emotional breaking point far more quickly and for a comparably lesser trial? I don't believe there's much evidence in favor or against this assumption about our human ancestors, since proper psychological diagnoses were nonexistant until this past century. Still, it raises the question: were people more or less depressed than they are now? Were people more emotionally equipped to deal with hardship and sorrow simply because they were exposed to it throughout life? Or did they simply deal with it as many do today, with suicide, silence, and depression? Did they blame themselves as many people do nowadays? Or did they trust to God and move on? My hunch is that people are much the same as they always have been. Some people harden under the strains of dealing with the death of a child or spouse, or of war and disease. Others break and shrivel to become hollow beings. Others become angry at everyone, and seek to enact revenge on those they feel have wronged them. And finally, others grieve, accept, and move on, working toward the hope that they will experience joy again.

Finally, what happens to those of us who have not experienced tragedy and loss to the extent that others have? Does this make us weaker, less prepared for catastrophe? Fewer of us experience death at an early age, and many of us are not greatly attached to those we lose, such as grandparents we rarely see, or a great-aunt or uncle who pinched our cheeks when we were five, or something like that. We grieve, it's true, but not with the overpowering wave of grief that afflicts those who lose someone they are well and truly attached to, like a parent, a spouse, a sibling, or a grandparent who we in fact are close to. In my opinion, these people who emerge intact from an emotional cataclysm are more prepared should the world end. They are the ones who can survive, they are the ones who would know what to do when the rest of us would go insane with terror and curl into a ball and blubber like idiots. They are the ones who can handle the angst hurled at them by life. But what about the rest of us?

I apologize for the pessimistic tone of this digression. I contemplated the blog of a friend, the blog of a friend of a friend, as well as the plight of the Rohirrim (and by proxy, King Theoden) in the Lord of the Rings, and came up with this thought process. Let me know what you think.