Siege Diaries 2/26/2021

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Today’s Daily Stoic writing prompt:  Why do I need to care that someone else screwed up?

Do I have to help fix it?  Will people suffer because of this screwup?  Yes?  Then I need to care.  What I don’t need to care about is finding someone to blame.  The focus needs to be on the harm done and moving into the future.  And I have to be cognizant that I might not be able to “fix” anything, and that I might not have the right skills/power/ability to fix it.  And some problems are not worth my time at all.

Frankly, my main concern should always be, first and foremost, “Did I screw up? And if so, what can I do about that?”

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“What is grief, but love persevering?”

That’s a line from Episode 8 of WandaVision, which I have been mentioning mostly in passing so as not to reveal any spoilers.  Although I personally am fine with spoilers, I’m not That Person who delights in springing them on friends who feel otherwise.   But this penultimate episode is more about explaining, more or less, everything that has happened in the series, and to no one’s surprise, grief is a huge part of it.  The line I quote comes from Vision in a flashback to when Wanda was still grieving her brother’s death, and it comes from a man–a synthetic being, really–who has never experienced that kind of loss before as he has never had physical kin, or even experienced love (although, as it turns out, he’s fully capable of that and all kinds of higher human emotions).

I was reminded of the phrase “love is stronger than death,”  a sentiment I’ve long admired and quoted. And, being the person I am, I looked up that quotation, which I knew to be Biblical in origin.  And, as often happens, the quotation, as commonly repeated,  isn’t quite right.

Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame.- Song of Solomon 8:6 (NRSV)

“As strong as death.”  Not stronger.  This is a statement not of enduring, deep love, but of the strength and fiery intensity of passion.  It is death’s equal. There is no sense that it outlasts or vanquishes death; indeed it is compared to death.   Even if you take the Song as an extended metaphor about the love of God (and thus dull its blatant erotic imagery)  this is a striking statement, not about eternal, undying love, but about love in its first burst of intensity, about passion (some translations say “jealousy”) as a kind of suffering.

Well, then.  Coming back to the original statement: “What is grief, but love persevering?”  What is Wanda’s grief?  In her time of grief, what does she do?  In public, she does what is expected.  And then, in private,  She erupts with pure, unadulterated, elemental passion and suffering.  That is love–the precise kind of love mentioned in in the Song of Solomon–persevering.

Grief can be dull and smothering.  It can be sharp and keening. It can be gentle and flowing. And it can be all of these things at once.  But the presence of grief of any kind is a result of love of some kind, and it does not exist without that love.

I started writing this before I began listening to the Shostakovich 14th symphony–the very first recording of it, when everything was new and raw, just received today–but as I wrote I knew what I had to listen to–because it’s all about death–particularly untimely, unnatural death–and reactions to it.  And those reactions are all over the map.  They’re fierce and fiery (and oh, my God, is the Malaguena movement blisteringly fast, like licking tongues of flame), they’re soft and wistful, they’re painful, they’re defiant, they’re resigned, they’re all of these things, and every damned one of them has to do with love, and every one of them is genuine and valid.

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