According to Merriam-Webster, the word grieve means “to cause to suffer.” It comes from the Latin word gravare which means “to burden.” Think about it like gravity (another Latin root for the word). It pulls us down; keeps us grounded.
When we think of grieving, we often associate it with weeping, mourning or despair. Grief causes a disturbance in our life. But the emotion of grief covers far more than simply tears shed over a loss. Based on the word’s origin, grief grounds us. It keeps us rooted on earth. It reminds us of the heaviness of life. It pricks our paradigms that tell us that death is an illusion and that the ways in which we live bear no consequences. Grief and grieving create in us a sense of reality and awareness of our finite nature.
I believe we have forgotten how to grieve; or at least why grieving is important.
There was another time when people had forgotten how to grieve. The Hebrew prophets, from the 5th century to the 8th century BC, tried to remind Israel how to grieve.
Israel had become fat off of the exploits of war and an economic system that thrived on cheap labor and a subdued people. The nation spent excessive capitol on keeping their war machines well oiled and they cared little for the poor or the foreigner. The leadership lived a comfortable life at the expense of the working class. In short, Israel had become the Egypt from whence God had delivered them. They were self-dependent, cocky and sure that their dynasty would last forever, because, after all, God was on their side. Which made what happened next quite a shock.
In 722 BC, the Northern kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrian armies.
Around 586 BC, the southern kingdom of Judah succumbed to Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians.
The unsinkable ship had sunk. God’s chosen people marched away from their land with hooks in their noses to Babylon.
In the time leading up to this pivotal moment, the Hebrew prophets tried to warn the people of this coming disaster. Their fast living and carelessness was not how they were intended to function as a nation and doing so would have consequences. The prophets tried to get the people to grieve. The people needed to weep over their abusive living towards the immigrate. They needed to repent of their self-indulgent lifestyle. They needed to stop their political and military exceptionalism. They needed to shed tears, hold a wake, and dig a grave for their irresponsible living. The prophets pointed to the grim future, to the storm clouds gathering on the horizon, and wept for the people. They grieved for a people with no concept of justice or truth or responsibility. They tried to bring them back to earth.
I come from a tradition that believes that the “gift of prophecy” died out with the canonization of the New Testament (how that argument is made still baffles me). I respectfully disagree. I’ll go even further to say, that I believe the greatest prophets among us aren’t holding up in church buildings, but behind the cameras and scripts of several very good television series.
In particular, I believe that the writers at AMC are teaching a culture how to grieve. This Sunday, countless viewers will tune in to find out what will happen to Walter White on AMC’s Breaking Bad. For those of you who haven’t seen the show (and you really should see it), Walt is a high school chemistry teacher who turns to selling meth in order to pay for cancer treatments he cannot afford. Over the course of the show’s narrative arc, Walt goes from peon methamphetamine cook to almighty drug-lord of Albuquerque, NM. The show lives up to its name as it shows the slow moral decay of Walt’s humanity. He is intoxicated by his own power, addicted to a drug more potent than meth – pride.
What we are all waiting to see is how Walt’s reign will end. Will he be arrested? Killed? Get away? At what cost?
One thing the show has taught us is that we have no idea what will happen next.
Whether Walt ends up pushing daisies or living a life on the lam, the show will have taught us one thing: We all want to live in a world where corruption and greed and injustice and killing are dealt with. We want judgment. We want justice. We want a world were good is rewarded and evil punished.
Will we have it? In Breaking Bad? In our own lives?
AMC’s Breaking Bad is teaching us how to grieve. They are teaching us to mourn for a world where drug dealers have mattress sized stacks of cash while honest workers struggle to pay rent. They are teaching us that we have to hold a funeral for ideologies that make people no more than objects of our own desires. They are teaching us that the current track we are headed is not a bright future, but a bleak, desert wasteland of pain and misery.
Will we continue on our path of destruction? Will we continue to get high on our own brand of pride and egotism? Nationalism? Religion?
Will we repent? Will we listen? Will we hope?
Because ultimately, grief does not leave us in despair. It grounds us. It teaches us to hope for a better world. It is a creative force, not a destructive one.
So, as we wait for the fate of Walter White to come in, shall we shed a few tears together for the world that is, or hope and work for a better one?