05 September 2008

Comforting Fictions

There are few things more insidious than "hope." We think of it as a positive attribute, in the main, but that does not hold up under examination. For every person who allows futile hope to pull them through a rough patch, there are probably ten others who keep pushing on to their detriment.

It's especially insidious in the face of insufficient information. Take notions of the afterlife. Primarily, I think, they are less about comforting people in the face of their own death and more about comforting survivors after a loss. I find myself in the position of inventing a comforting fiction to keep myself from going mad and spending every moment in an almost certainly useless search.

It is extremely unlikely that Jacques is alive. I have checked and rechecked at the pound, called for him throughout my neighborhood, and kept my eyes open on the walk between home and campus. Nothing. If I allow myself to dwell on that near-certainty, I am overcome with guilt for failing to protect him. If I take a step back and allow the slim possibility that he got lost and was taken in by someone else, I can function. Regardless of how unlikely it is, allowing a small irrational part of my mind to accept that fiction keeps me, to a rough approximation, sane. Without a body to bury, it is not an impossible fiction, but it is still nothing more than an invented story.

As for an afterlife, that is an even more elaborate fiction. I find traditional notions of it completely ridiculous and at odds with the supposedly "real world". But their purpose is not to make sense. It is not even so much to comfort. The purpose, I now think, is to allow them to move on. Keep the comforting fiction at the back of the mind so that they can function in their daily lives. Problems come when they forget that it is nothing more than a comforting fiction. I am not claiming that an afterlife is impossible: just that it has exactly as much evidence as I have for thinking that Jacques could still be alive.

*This post was originally title "Futility" until I noticed that my last post on a similar topic was also titled that. Consistency, eh?

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