- Doug Taylor and Rabbi Morton
Two things happened last weekend. At the time, I didn't think they were related.
The first occurred when I read a story in the Saturday paper about a guy who was head-over-heels in love with a woman who obviously didn't feel the same way about him. After receiving three turn-downs for dates, he sent her a dozen roses every day... for three full months.
She still wouldn't go out with him.
Then Sunday, my Mom called to tell me that a childhood friend - my next door neighbor as I was growing up - had died. The memories of playing together on warm, summer days are still clear in my mind. He was only 43. I was stunned.
In fact, I couldn't really get much done after that. My mind was numbed by the news and simultaneously spinning with thoughts about how short life is, how we don't appreciate it enough, and what does it all mean, anyway?
In desperation, I called my friend, the King of Rational Thought. Not because I had a particular question. I just needed to talk to someone.
"I'm really confused," I said, after he had expressed condolences. "I feel so bad, yet I hadn't seen him in years."
"A couple of possibilities," he replied. "One is that the death of someone you know reminds you of the temporary nature of life. That can be a sobering thought. But there's another issue here. Do you understand grief?"
"Grief? Well, uh, yeah, I think so. Isn't grief when you, uh, miss someone who's not coming back?"
"But grief doesn't usually last forever," he said. "You may grieve for someone for awhile, but eventually you move on. What changes?"
"I guess you just learn to live with it," I said.
"Right," he replied. "More precisely, you come to accept the reality of the loss. When someone experiences a serious loss, there are usually two things that happen. One part of the mind knows that the loss has actually occurred. Yet another part of the mind is unwilling to accept it. In general, grief occurs when one part of you accepts the reality of the loss while another part doesn't. Once you fully accept reality, grieving stops."
"So why do some people mourn for years over the death of a loved one, or for that matter, even a broken-up love affair?" I asked.
"Because they are unwilling or unable to accept reality. That's why it's particularly difficult when someone is missing. Friends and relatives don't have the mental certainty of knowing that the person is truly gone. They're caught in a very uncomfortable limbo and sometimes they can't rest until the issue is resolved."
A bell started ringing in my mind. "Did you read Saturday's paper?"
I filled him in about the suitor with the unlimited rose budget. Then I asked, "So is he experiencing the same thing? At one level, he realizes she has turned him down, yet at another level he's refusing to accept it?"
"Nice connection," he said. "It's very similar. And in his case, you see how his unwillingness to come to grips with reality is costing him a small fortune."
I paused. Finally, I said, "Reality's not a very fun place sometimes, is it?"
"No," said the King of Rational Thought quietly. "Sometimes it's not. However, it's the best place to be. Any other place is fantasy, and that will eventually lead to conflict. If your goal is to find real peace, acceptance of reality is the only way."
I thanked him for listening. We said our good-byes and hung up.
And then I sat and thought about what he'd said, especially the last part, ...
... for a long time.