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While I was on a plane ride to Hokkaido, I stumbled across an article on the International New York Times (Nov. 15-16, 2014) in the Editorials Opinion section titled I nearly died. So what? I love how the author, Meghan Daum (columnist of the Los Angeles Times), was brutally honest about her perspective on life after a near death experience, one that is often romanticized in culture but unfairly distorts the truth in reality.
To distill the article’s main points to this post, basically the author undergoes a medically induced coma and doctors have told her husband that she had a chance of passing away, and if not, lifelong brain damage. Fortunately, she ended up alive and experiencing only tinnitus and some minor hearing loss. And so she continues to live her normal life. But because of this near death experience, her friends asked her whether it had changed her. The author also talks about her own experience with her own mother, whom she didn’t have a demonstrably warm relationship with, when the latter was suffering from cancer.
The author’s friends were looking for some sort of spiritual or moral transformation that might have happened to her, only for the author to be unable to provide them an adequate answer. Here’s what I think – movies, media and the like constantly paint this perfect picture where after undergoing a sort of crisis, such as a near death experience, the person would have some sort of revelations in his or her life. In reality however, the answer is much more dull. More often than not, other than being more aware and careful, the person goes through the day like any other normal day. It sounds sad, and it definitely does not have any Hollywood blockbuster potential, but that’s life.
Sure, sometimes we hear stories about those that have been dramatically changed, but more often than not they were already going to be on that path anyway with a bit more nudge. I will admit that there are a few that instantaneously changed due to a dramatic event that occurred in their life, but I bet you that this is the rare rather than the norm.
Just ask yourself, how many times have you personally gone through an event and said to yourself, “OK, I’m going to be much nicer and kinder to everyone around me,” only to then fall back on your old habits and personality? Sure, many of us do exude this extra kindness for a short term, but if you don’t have the discipline to continue this behavior, it doesn’t become a habit, and ultimately we again become who we originally were.
The author brings up her mother to show that she was once on the side of the carer too, only to realize that when she experiences her own near death experience, that when carers ask questions such as transformations of life, it irks the survivor. The survivor is expected to give an answer such as, “It’s changed my life a lot. I will serve better for the community,” but in her heart it’s probably “Nothing much. I guess just the same, go to work, buy some groceries, see some friends for drinks etc.”. It’s irking for the survivor because it’s culturally expected to give a positive and hopeful response rather than a dull response, and hence she feels pressure to not be able to speak the truth.
I also like how the author brings up her mother too and was sincere of her relationship with her mother. Truth be told, not everyone gets along with their parents (or family) perfectly. All these pictures and stories keep telling us family is the greatest people to our lives, but this is only true for the fortunate ones in the world. But because of society’s expectation for family love, if you say anything but love your family, you may be criticized or condemned. I am glad I read this author’s article because based on the tone of the passage about her mother, she was able to convey this pressure to act all, “Hey I’m doing fine, my mom and I are close and I’m taking good care of her.” but deep inside you can feel she doesn’t feel that way. Here’s the paragraph word for word from the newspaper:
“…My mother and I didn’t have a demonstrably warm relationship. But fearing I’d be judged if I behaved as anything less than the adoring, grief-ravaged daughter, I put on a performance designed to suggest that a newly deepened mother-daughter bond was resulting in healing, revelatory moments for both of us.”
It’s sad how society’s expectations have imposed us on how we should behave in public, forcing us to hide our honesty within our own hearts and minds, but a truthful performance in a human world is much less acceptable than a performance designed to appease to our expectations and fantasies. This is typical human behavior.
Anyway to wrap this up (of if this was tldr for you), a few key takeaways:
- we often expect transformations or revelations of the person after a crisis or a revelation as portrayed by the media and the like, but more often than not, the person just continues his or her original life
- the society has these unspoken “cultural expectations” such as family love that not behaving in a given manner will result in being ostracized or criticized, yet doing so will be hiding our true feelings
One last point. The author stated that she complained to her neurologist about her hearing problems, only to have the neurologist tell her that it was a miracle for her to survive already. I could understand the author’s annoyance. Yes she survived in a manner much, much better than the predicted outcomes; but still, since she does have the hearing problems, regardless of the miracle or not, it’s still a problem she has to deal with so it’s annoying for someone to tell her to appreciate what she already has when it’s still a problem. (Sorry if this was confusing, I will address this topic about unjust comparisons such as we should be happy with what we have compared with children in third world countries, which I believe to be an unfair comparison since we have a very distant relationship with them and we tend to compare with things relative to us) in a later post.
What are some other things in life that have a very romanticized expectation to it but in reality, it falls short of this expectation?