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  • bethhewett

Gates of Grief: Living in the Face of Global Sorrow

Mexico City is close to running out of water; much of what they do have is undrinkable. Water is trucked in with armed guards. Intense drought has affected this city from years of low rainfall and nearly dry reservoirs.

Microplastics and their many hazardous chemicals have been found in the soil, the oceans, fish and other edible animals, human embryos, mother’s milk, and more. The damage from these dangerous fibers to the ecosystems has yet to be fully understood, but the reality is setting in.

Multi-scores of people have been killed in the Ukraine and Russia—nearly 500,000 dead as of January 31, 2024. How many more have died since then? Why? For right now, let’s not even tote up the losses of these country’s ecology, animals, potable water, edible food, and livable land.

What underlying tensions caused the Israel – Hamas war in which, as of early April 2024, more than 33,000 Gazans, and 1,400 Israelis had died? Most of these people were civilians. Most were women and children. Many were journalists, doctors, and aid workers. Many of these people had woken up with plans for the day and their future; then they were killed. Many more people are now without a home, food, and a reliable water supply. How can the innocent survive? The cause matters insofar as it may lead to an ending of this bloodbath.

On Friday, 22 March 2024, ISIS claimed responsibility (without proof as yet) for a massacre at the Moscow Crocus City Hall concert venue, leading to 137 dead (three of them children) at current count.  Why did these people have to die? They also had plans for their futures; they also had a right to live.

In the Unites States, nearly 5000 people have died by gun violence to date in 2024, too many of them were children. 

In 2023, there were 42 mass killings in this country. What could we have done about it? Why can’t these people have lived out their natural lives without dying violently?

According to the World Wildlife Foundation, there are 17 critically endangered animals on its list of those near extinction and 29 on the endangered list. Some animals that I was aware of as a child are nearly extinct or gone forever.

In the “good” news category, according to the ASPCA, approximately 6.3 million dogs and cats entered U.S. shelters recently, a distinct decline from 7.2 million in 2011. A mere 920,000 of these have been euthanized compared to 2.6 million in 2011.

We won’t even go into the state of politics in this country or in many others. People are struggling everywhere, it seems.

Do these events trouble you? How much of this pain can you absorb? What makes such issues important to you?

Some people truly suffer when they read such statements as these. For their mental and physical health, it can be important to stay away from the media and this kind of news. Their empathic nature literally can make them sick. I get it. I’m one of those people.

But we need to find ways to care that we can live with when we realize we cannot live with the human, animal, and earth-bound horrors of 2024. Abstractions and concepts intrigue us intellectually, but they don’t complicate our lives at all. They don’t lead us to action. We don’t need conceptualized ideals because they don’t challenge us beyond momentary discomfort. We need to understand the concrete realities, not the abstract possibilities. To reckon with our global grief, we must try to create a channel of responsibility and a relationship between ideas and actions, between gut feelings of sadness and disgust and the positive behaviors that lead to change.


Great injustices cry out to us, and we must hear. We must appreciate the pain of those who feel they are united with no one; we can become the ones who unite with them. If we don’t find it disconcerting that we don’t live by our spoken ideals, then our ideals are mere concepts, flapping about in the wind like sheets and shirts drying on the clothesline. The times in which we live demand some sort of response from us, from me and you—not merely from unnamed others.

Are we bereaved by what happens in the world? We should be. Because of 24/7 media, we know far too much of the evil, misfortune, and upset in this world. We are closely in contact with video and text about the pain others experience. It’s better to pace ourselves with such information for our stress levels, but we shouldn’t try to cut off the difficult feelings it causes. Those feelings were baked into us as embryos, embossed on our very souls to be nurtured and educated over our lifetimes. We should worry if we DON’T feel anything. 

“Thick listening,” a concept taught by the late Abbot Aidan Shea of St. Anselm’s Abbey in Washington, DC, teaches that we are all implicated in any action taken by anyone else. We are connected not only by what we do or don’t do; we are also connected by what others do and don’t do. If we are implicated by other’s actions, we are also implicated by nonaction. Psychologist Francis Weller, in The Wild Edge of Sorrow, stated that “the sorrows of the world” are a gate of grief, “when we register the losses of the world around us” (p. 46). Karl Jung said that everything possesses soul, so we can be the “soul of the world,” or the anima mundi (Weller, p. 46).

How can we act as the soul of the world when we are hurting over the terrible events that we see daily on the media and even in our own lives?

I'll discuss some of actions that can help emotionally, spiritually, and functionally in Part 2 of this blog. These are mourning actions that counteract nonaction. In acting, we can work with our grief about the world in which we live.

In the meantime, take a moment to think about these gates of grief and examine your relationship to these ideas. Remember that you aren't alone in your grief nor in the work that must be done.


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