December 6, 2013 by lucieromarin
I’m no fan of sudden disasters or unexpected evils, and quite understand why we wish for a little foreknowledge sometimes; however, I must also admit that when I’ve known with absolute certitude that grief lay ahead of me and loss behind, the foreknowledge was not the slightest comfort at all. On the contrary, all it means is living in the shadow of dread and the private suffocation of powerlessness until the foreseen grief arrives and makes good on its promise. It’s worse if the foreknowledge involves more lives than your own; that shadow of dread isolates you from every person not yet under that shadow, being haunted by visions of a hundred separate sorrows still to come and the anguish of warning no one.
What can you do when you know that something’s coming, and it’s bad? (I don’t mean I-might-not-get-asked-to-the-dance bad, but my-husband-is-going-to-run-away-with-my little-sister bad.)
1) Nothing. By this, I mean don’t waste time trying to change the future with your foreknowledge. It has been given to you so that you may prepare for the suffering, not so you can avoid it.
2) Start forgiving the relevant players now. Real forgiveness can be the work of years. You need to make as many imperfect acts of forgiveness as you can now, not so you can beat yourself up about the imperfection, but so you can prevent yourself from turning into raging pyscho. Forgiveness isn’t about letting the people who hurt you off the hook of justice; it’s about saving yourself from being consumed by what they’ve done. So start forgiving them now, no matter how false it feels to you.
3) Go to Confession. I’m not saying this to be pious; I’m saying this because part of the anguish of foreknowledge is usually that it can’t be shared, and this leaves your hurt or your anger churning about in an agonised secrecy, driving your thoughts ever inward, which is unhealthy. So go to Confession – because it’s the only place in the world where you can say exactly what you need to say, knowing that the priest can’t repeat it to anyone. So you’re not blabbing or triggering disaster by talking there; you are, however, saving yourself from implosion.
4) Get dressed up. I know that sounds weird, and I cannot for the life of me explain it. All I can do is attest from personal experience that it works. I don’t mean go about overdressed; I mean make sure you look as well as you can at all times, and really, it feels like fighting back.
5) Plan stuff. Even if it’s just a trip to the movies – plan things, not because they’ll make the grief go away (they won’t) but because by doing so you’ll be balancing out the awful foreknowledge with a kind of positive foreknowledge. Give yourself something to look forward to, no matter how small that is, and you save that part of your mind that looks at the future from being crushed by the weight of a single object.
6) At the same time, you don’t have to get frenetic about it. It’s okay to have a sleep-in and a private cry. Wallowing and denial are just opposite extremes. And you mustn’t think that that dread means you’re some kind of failure. It doesn’t. It means you’re normal.
7) Remember the passage in ‘The Screwtape Letters’ in which Screwtape advises Wormwood to make his subject think that praying for some courage entails feeling brave while praying. You’re not going to get the grace you need before you need it, and the dread doesn’t mean you won’t have what it takes to face the trial when it arrives.
8) Sorry, I have to say something about Our Lady here. Normally, I hate it when priests do this in sermons. “Take it to Our Lady,” sounds to me like, “I have no idea what to say to help you. Ask her.” But when it comes to living with foreknowledge, just think – she was warned during the Presentation in the Temple of the sword of sorrow that would pierce her heart – and she lived with that foreknowledge for over thirty years. That entire time, she knew that something terrible was coming. She knows how you feel.
9) I know that the last words of the ‘Hail Mary’ are really a petition about final perseverance, but even so. Loss is a kind of death, and carrying any kind of cross entails a death to self. Foreknowledge makes you feel you need immediate and future help at once. So, ask for it, over and over, “Now, and at the hour of our death. Now, and at the hour of our death. At the hour of our death.”