Following is a letter/email, for my brother, that I have in my Drafts box. I guess I wanted to vet it first, before sending it, for reasons that more or less explain themselves in the body of the letter:
This is a difficult subject to bring up. I was watching the slideshow with Mom after you called. This is the third time we've sat down in front of it and enjoyed the pictures: the array, of historical, recent and distant, and contemporary, the lot. We talk a little bit about things that the pictures bring up.
Right away, a couple of weeks ago, we saw the pictures keeping alive the memory of Ben [who died of cancer at the age of 18, back in January of 2007], and they are good, even the melancholy ones of his rapid demise: everyone in the pics, even (especially) Ben, were being pleasant for each other. The graveside and dinner pics afterward were a bit more melancholy. It was a sad, sad day, after a sad, sad, sad time. I only experienced the very last chapter: the funeral gathering. The months before, I only felt distant and frustrated and angry because I was so sad that you and yours were going "away" to a place that I could not follow. You are still there, moreso, evidently, than ever. And I am just so saddened by it all.
I said to Mom: "I hope that Jon didn't include any pictures of the day Ben died!" She said yes to that.
Pictures, and even moreso, videos, have this power to keep sad things ALIVE. We never let them go. We refuse, even, because we can. It almost seems right that we do so. But after yesterday, I am more convinced than ever that we, collectively, culturally, are mired in an insane expectation: that we can and should and will keep pictures before our eyes of every sad, disturbing, detail of our tragedies. Our "godlike powers of observation" have allowed this option, and we choose, unthinkingly, without debating what it is we are actually doing. We have collectively leaped upon the technology and do not let anything slip from our grasp.
Times were, before cameras, that people would mourn, time would march on, and so many details would slip from our minds. Time would soften grief by removing the gory, disturbing, sad details. We would naturally, biologically forget (brains "leak", after all: in these kinds of cases, "Thank God"), forget what otherwise makes us potential victims of insane grieving. We patch up and go on. And naturally, biologically, we would be repaired by time: even to the point of painting mental pictures that do not have anything to do with reality: remembering the departed in ways that our minds choose best to heal by.
Not any longer! Especially now, with digital recording of literally everything, we no longer have that escape through the healing power of passing time and forgetfulness.
As I said, Mom and I were watching the slideshow. And suddenly, there was Ben, in the hospital: the picture(s?) I dreaded. The demise, the funeral, okay. But not that, Brother! I reeled. Almost lost my composure. Mom beside me was silent, not noticing, because my noises were constrained and she couldn't hear me. I don't know what she thought or felt: she gave no indication. Earlier, two weeks ago, when we saw the first Ben without hair pic, she said, "Oh, Ben." In a pained way. She's said nothing since whenever any of Ben's demise, or funeral pics come up.
Three times, now, I have seen Ben dying. You've shared. I cannot do this with equanimity. It doesn't feel good. And that (several degrees of magnitude removed) feeling is yet strong enough to make me suspicious that this is not a healthy use of our "godlike powers of observation". Just because we can doesn't mean that we should.
I just want you to think about it. And please respect my feelings on the subject. I'm trying very hard to respect yours. That is why I have never said anything about the grisly pictures before. My thoughts, on the phenomenon of not allowing ourselves to forget, had not solidified before. I'm convinced that I am right. What this refusal to forget means in the wider societal view, I don't know. But the inability to distance ourselves from the immediacy of grief must pose some powerful alteration to human thinking and emotions, compared to how we dealt with these kinds of inescapable sorrows in the swiftly departing eras of history.
I feel like illustrating my point with a more personal one. Had my in-laws taken pictures of my sister-in-law, Cate, who immolated herself the summer before I met my wife; and had those hospital pictures been displayed around the house when I first visited; and had my in-laws kept those last few minutes of Cate "alive" with the kind of media powers we possess today, how (I asked my wife just now) would that have affected my relationship with my in-laws: and more to the point, how would those pictures have affected their grieving process? I don't know. But posing this analogy to your situation, my wife said, "That would not have been good." She felt the hypothetical strongly, instantly: she would not have wanted pictures like that as part of her life ever since that horrible episode. Examples could be multiplied, some are famous in the media. Not letting go, because we keep all the details in our memories fresh, will pose some hazard to our future, being unable to forget. And in cases where we need to forgive, not being able to do that either. That's just the wider stage potential of our family's intimate acquaintance with tragedy's embrace.
PS, I've sat on this a day and a night. And I have decided to send it. We are both big boys. If there is any possible value in expressing my thoughts and worries/concerns, it should be sooner rather than later. If there is any possibility that my ideas can have a beneficial effect on the future, I need to just say what I have to say.
One additional point I feel like emphasizing: God is in all things, even to the extent of BEING each one of us on a "plane" of observation that only "God In Total" can experience and appreciate. But AS us, God does not (until now at any rate) indulge in trying to perfectly remember all things. Our mortal, natural state, does not recall details of distant events very well. Other than those details that get "burned into our brains", we forget, the details become blurred, even lost, over time. We are made this way and it is a blessing. But now we can do an end run on forgetfulness: we can preserve every last detail, in HD video, even. I shudder to think of what is possible to record in full HD video now. I don't want to "be there" over and over and over again for the rest of our lives. That's a choice that I think is an unwise one, for the reasons that I tried to lay out above. There are lots of things that we shouldn't do, just because we can (now). We don't question the unwisdom of the many things that we now have the power to do. Or at least we don't question what we do enough. If it isn't blatantly immoral/evil we tend to take up anything and run with it as far and as fast as we can.
But then again, I always have been one to suspect the worst to come out of technology; and the last one to adopt it; kicking and screaming! Here I am using the very device that I swore regularly at before (and after) the summer of '98, when writing ambitions "forced" me into my first real computer. Four years later, still trying to promote myself, I got on the Net. And here I am: still sans cell phone, decrying the "zombie apocalypse" all around me, as I see people slumped/bent over their cyborg devices as they pause from real life, or try and do both at the same time. The way people "communicate" now is dependent on these damned devices. They expect ME to as well. And I get shafted by not being "in the loop", repeatedly, increasingly. I HATE it with a great hatred.