Our excessive emotions are so patently painful and harmful to us as a species that I can hardly believe that they evolved. Other creatures manage to have effective matings and even stable societies without great emotions, and they have a bonus in that they need not ever mourn. (But some higher animals have emotions that we think are similar to ours: dogs, elephants, otters, and the sea mammals mourn their dead. Why do that to an otter? What creator could be so cruel, not to kill otters, but to let them care?) It would seem that emotions are the curse, not death--emotions that appear to have devolved upon a few freaks as a special curse from Malevolence.
It's an interesting idea that Dillard posits: the curse of life isn't cancer or AIDS or lymphoma or flood or fire. The curse of life is that we care about these things. Emotions are God's special curse. Sure, we experience joy and ecstasy, love and passion. But we also undergo sadness and despair, grief and fear. That is life's greatest tribulation.
I sort of agree with Dillard, and I sort of don't. My life would be so much simpler without excessive emotions. Today, I went to pick up a birthday present for my nephew. As I stood before the cash register, waiting for my debit card to clear, I was in a panic. I had no idea if there was enough money in my account to cover the purchase. (I had shown up with a coupon for 60% off any merchandise. Unfortunately, books weren't a part of that deal. I had to pay full price) By the time the approval finally came through, I had almost gone through all the stages of grief and was rounding the corner on acceptance.
Emotion turned that whole birthday shopping excursion into one of the circles of Dante's Inferno--the one reserved for people who overdraw their checking accounts. It was not pleasant. Without feelings, I wouldn't have had to deal with the worry and fear. In fact, without feelings, life would simply be a series of happenings. Christmas would be the day that comes after December 24. In the United States, July 4 wouldn't be Independence Day--no parades, no fireworks. It would just be another hot and muggy summer day.
And death wouldn't be saddled with all the emotional baggage, either. No desperation or false hope. Grief and despair would be dinosaurs--bones in the Museum of Natural Emotional History. Terrorism would be completely ineffective because there would be no terror or fear or rage to fuel it. Basically, we would all be flat lines, walking around--breathing, eating, sleeping, working, fucking--until we just stopped. No wailing or gnashing of teeth at the end. A last breath and then . . . nothing.
For the last year, one of my sisters has been mired in grief. She walks around like Pig Pen, a cloud of dark emotions following her everywhere. She hasn't been able to work. Suffers panic attacks. Spends days sleeping. She's pissed at God for not saving our sister, Sally, last summer. Guilty because she believes that she could have done something else to save Sally's life. Sad because life didn't turn out the way she planned.
Of course, all these emotions have one root cause--helplessness. My sister can't wrap herself around the idea that she's not in control (has never been in control). So her way to stay in control of her life is through anger and guilt and sadness. And, as a result, her life is completely out of control.
Now, I am not the poster child of emotional health. Tomorrow night, when I step into the classroom for my first night of teaching, I will be a beehive of panic and anxiety. I am human. Therefore, I am an emotional creature, just like a dog or elephant or sea otter. I can't escape it, and don't really want to. Sure, sometimes there are tears and screaming, but, on the flip side, there are also embraces and passionate kisses.
Tears and hugs are gifts, not punishments. Hopefully, Saint Marty's sister will learn that soon.