Thoughtful Thursday: Haunt

October 27, 2011

Thoughtful ThursdayThis week, we’ll talk about haunting. No, not the fun spooky Halloween kind of haunting. We’ll talk about the horrible things you can’t get out of your head. Sorry.

Different people get affected by different things. Some people can stomach any human injustice but get their heart broken by cruelty to animals. Some people feel a protective urge toward children, or anxiety about illness, or a fear of accidents. Some people are touched by the personal, and some people are most affected by large-scale calamities.

Bloggy friend and Intelligentsia member Strong Blonde just posted about how she can’t stop thinking about the tragedy that happened this week in her family. Her husband’s cousin killed himself… after murdering his toddler.

Someone who went to graduate school with me had a daughter who was diagnosed with cancer as an infant. The whole department was very concerned, but one good friend of mine, with a daughter almost exactly the same age, was obsessed. She often woke her husband up in the middle of the night to talk about this sick baby she’d never even met (his sleepy automatic response: “Yes, it’s terrible, we are so lucky”). She’d check the baby’s health website for updates every few hours, and for a while she spent literally several hours a day reading back posts and learning about this particular kind of cancer. Her obsession got less intense over the period of this baby’s long illness, which took up almost all of her short life. When the little girl died, my friend became obsessed all over again.

After Hurricane Katrina, a co-worker spent every moment when she wasn’t at work watching news footage of people stranded on their roofs. She told me, “I can’t stop. It’s all so horrible. I can’t stop watching.”

I’ve been obsessed with various things over the years. Like the time during an IVF cycle that I looked up everyone who’d ever cycled on CycleSista to calculate statistics on their success rates, twin rates, type of intervention, total number of cycles before achieving success… It was quite the spreadsheet.

I don’t tend to think much about big disasters, in part because I stay away from news coverage in general. Individual hardship can make me momentarily sad for the people involved, but I tend to move on quickly. At times I’ve worked with issues that didn’t faze me at all but are too much for most people to even hear about; sometimes, when meeting new people, just the mention of what I do has been enough to send people in a beeline across the room with no explanation but, “Oh, uh, that’s great, uh, bye.” I’m notoriously hard to shock. A robot.

But, you know the one thing that really haunts me? The Holocaust. It didn’t resonate until I married a man with several grandparents-in-law and numerous other relatives who are/were survivors (and even more ancestors who were killed). His relatives almost always avoided talking about The War, so it’s not like I heard a lot of details from them. It’s just the idea that entire nations of people could stand by (or join in) while their neighbors and friends were persecuted, imprisoned, and killed. Letting horrible things happen not to enemy combatants but children, little old ladies, everyone, from their own country.

I usually don’t think about the Holocaust, but occasionally I’ve visited memorials or visited the graves of relatives whose headstones also honor the members of their immediate family who were killed in the Holocaust, or encountered other reminders. Then for a moment I mentally put my family in that situation, and it’s too horrible to think about anything bad happening to my husband and babies and I block it out of my mind.

Most recently, I was looking at the website of the Survivor Mitzvah Project to make a donation in memory of a relative who’d survived the Holocaust but recently died. Once again, I am haunted. The people on the website survived a genocide then have spent the subsequent 65 years still suffering. After the war, they went back to their little towns as one of the handful of remaining Jews and have lived in poverty ever since, often facing further persecution under new dictators or oppressive governments or soulless neighbors. Unlike the people whose stories I’ve heard before — relatives, friends of relatives, activists — these people didn’t start new lives in North America or Israel. Their letters tell heartbreaking stories not only about the cruelty of their neighbors and countrymen, not only about war or poverty, but about the ugliness that such situations can bring out in the people you love. Which brings us full circle, back to that baby who will never play with Strong Blonde’s twins at a family reunion, because his father did something that most of us can’t even bring ourselves to imagine.

Yes, it’s terrible, we are so lucky.

What haunts you?

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14 Responses to “Thoughtful Thursday: Haunt”

  1. strongblonde Says:

    i think i’ve talked about it before….but i can become totally obsessive with things: i checked my medical records for my tumor markers every 15 minutes until the results were posted, i created binders and charts for IVF, made tables that compared my IVF cycles and outcomes, exhaustively researched treatment for parkinsons when i diagnosed my mom…the list could go on forever. there are some things, however, that i find totally haunting. 1) death. i think that this has a lot to do with my current personal conflict with end of life, afterlife, and unanswered questions. it becomes worse when death involves a child or an elderly person. or when the death seems especially unjust, like in my current situation. 2) welfare. meaning lack of welfare or poor circumstances for living. commercials about people without food and water? shots from africa with starving kids looking into the camera? i’m done. i can’t do it. their images get burned into my brain and i begin to obsess: what does it feel like to have that life? what would happen to me and my family if we didn’t have food? etc.

    i feel like i’m talking in circles right now and not able to articulate very well. i can say that right now i’m completely haunted on what that poor baby must have been feeling. aside from pain, he must have felt scared, betrayed, confused. how could his dad do this to him? i’ve seen gunshot wounds. i have even seen gunshot wounds from shotguns. because of this, along with the police reports, i can PICTURE that poor baby. and it’s giving me nightmares. totally haunting.

  2. a Says:

    I’m not much for obsessing about stuff – I’m just too practical. I don’t like to waste energy that could be better spent…finding a sunny spot to nap (must have been a cat in a former life). Plus, it’s a nice defense mechanism for my job.

    I’m hoping that I never really encounter anything that I have to obsess about. I am, however, fascinated by the Holocaust and all the stories therein. I cannot fathom how people could convince themselves that their actions were OK.

  3. Heather Says:

    Lots of things haunt me. I can’t stand to hear anything about violence against humans, especially children. But I don’t seek it out. I actually turn away from it.

    I once wrote a paper in school on the Kent State University Massacre that took place during the protests against the Vietnam War. I read a lot of magazine and newspaper articles from that time as part of my research. I cried a lot during my research. It really affected me.

  4. Elana Kahn Says:

    Before I had Tzipora, thoughts of the twins’ birth would haunt me at night, and I would have flashbacks of what I imagined happened during the C-Section. I would then think of what might have happened (worst case scenario), and it kept me up at night thinking about what could happen the next time I gave birth. And then of course I had a picture perfect birth with Tzipora and the freak outs went away. 🙂

  5. Cat Says:

    I’m most haunted by the awful things people do to other people and of times I have failed to step up when I should have. Larger scale things like the Holocaust or the civil wars in Africa make me nauseous. I sob when I read stories like the one from Strong Blonde. Or the little baby that was left strapped into his car seat that was sitting in his crib for eight days while his parents were in the rest of the apartment carrying on with their life with their other child and playing video games. What must the last moments of those babies’ lives have been like? They certainly didn’t feel the love they were entitled to as innocent children. I’m crying as I type this and could never actually speak about any of it without completely choking up.

    Times when I should have spoken up about something but didn’t for fear of not being able to defend my opinion or when I should have put someone in their place after asking a rude question about how my children were conceived or allowing their grandchildren to walk over and stare at my kids while they were trying to eat their snack at the park. Those times just stick in my head for months and months and sometimes longer.

    I’m also obsessed with Katrina in particular and hurricanes in general, but that’s because I went there to help rebuild and saw the destruction and talked to the survivors. It makes me crazy that so many people think the storm only hit New Orleans.

  6. St. Elsewhere Says:

    Readings news of horrible things/accidents having happened to people stays in my mind for a while; my daughter’s passing and the circumstances around it haunt me too. I can’t say it is a constant in my mind, but it seems to swim in and out of my conscious mind.

    I like you, am appalled at the kind of atrocities that we are capable of perpetrating on our fellow humans. I am ‘curious’ and read up a lot about the Holocaust, and stories around it. But there are also a couple of riots and the Partition that have stayed in my mind so much. How does one look at their neighbour in the eye after having done such a crime?

  7. St. Elsewhere Says:

    Hugs, BabySmiling.


  8. I’m breathing really deeply now. I just clicked over to StrongBlonde’s to read her post. It’s so sad, so sad.

    In my head, I know that for every heinous evil there is also incredible altruism. Humans and humanity are a melange of both.

    And I also have come to know that thoughts have power. We are always creating with our thoughts — sometimes mindfully but often mindlessly. So I try to choose my thoughts wisely.

    I think yoga and meditation has helped me to not dwell on — create and perpetuate — horror. If I find myself doing so, I turn to the process of tonglen, when I breathe and welcome the ick into my heart, pause for a moment of transformation, and breathe out love and peace. It’s really an amazing thing to experience.

    I’m going to try it now for those mentioned in StrongBlonde’s post.

  9. jjiraffe Says:

    That is so, so awful. My thoughts are with Strong Blonde and her family…

    I’m also afraid of many things, but like you, the Holocaust is the Big Scary One. My husband also lost relatives in the Holocaust. I mostly worry about another one, because when I converted the one lesson my teacher pressed over and over is that there were many events over thousands of years of the Jewish people being persecuted and there most likely will be something again in the future.

    I like Lori’s meditation ideas. Lately I try to do one good deed a week (an idea I got from Not a Fertile Myrtle) to try to make the world a better place in a small way, and find that diminishes anxiety to a certain extent.

  10. Rebecca Says:

    Everything! I’m a damn hippy bleeding heart liberal, all injustices bother me.

  11. Ana Says:

    Senseless violence. Especially things like shooting sprees–Virginia tech, Arizona etc… If children are involved im even worse. Sorry I could not even click the link but was haunted nonetheless. my thoughts are with strong blonde and her family.
    Starving children also. Seems so senseless when some have so much.


  12. My mother’s death haunts me. Really, whenever someone I know dies unhappy that haunts me. I hate when human beings are irreparably damaged by their childhoods or another tragic event. I am especially haunted by people who don’t or can’t overcome tragedy, because I’m deeply aware that they could be any one of us, accept for the grace of luck.


  13. I’m haunted by two things: holocaust stories and infant-loss stories. The first wasn’t always the case, but happened after I’d seen the film ‘Life is Beautiful’. I just realized I couldn’t watch or read any holocaust stories anymore, they just upset me too much. (Recently my dad offered me the book “Sarah’s Key” and although I was hesitant to read it, I did – it was beautifully written, but it did haunt me). The second one I’m not really sure why – probably because of my parents’ loss of their firstborn, and me trying to understand how they dealt with that, what it must have been like for them. So every story I read (ever since I started blogging and discovered the ALI community) somehow puts me a bit in my mom’s shoes, and the thought of what she went through and how she was never really able to share that haunts me.

  14. Tara (TIMO) Says:

    I am afraid of kidnapping. My mother instilled that fear in me as a child and it’s continued throughout my entire life. I’m trying not to teach that to my boys but it’s very hard. I make sure I can keep an eye on both of them at all times, not an easy feat when they’re running off in two different directions.

    I’m also afraid of death. Not necessarily my own but more the thought of having to continue living without one of the four of us. I’d rather us all die at once that face living without our entire family.

    I also have a bit of the what-if/should-have/could-have fear. My uncle and cousin both worked at the World Trade Center. On September 11th, my uncle was out of town and my cousin was home with a sick daughter. The “they could have died there” thoughts plagued me for quite some time. I also used to frequent the shopping plaza where the Tucson attacks occurred. Even though we had moved prior to them happening, the thoughts stayed with me. Interestingly, I went to Kent State (Heather’s answer above). The architecture building is where the May 4th attacks happened. I parked in spaces where I know for a fact someone lost their life. But that never seemed to bother me. Perhaps because it was long before my time (1970 versus 1993-1998). I haven’t been back since they expanded the memorial and wonder if I’d feel differently now. The parking spaces are now blocked off so I imagine it’s much more visual than it was 13-18 years ago.


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