The sudden blast that killed at least 25 miners and trapped four more underground in West Virginia’s Upper Big Branch Mine is the kind of event that, sadly, tells us a gripping truth about the weight of reality and the cutting edge of real human emotion.
So much of our daily psychological energy is spent (or misspent) on frustrations and fears that seem commanding in the absence of true tragedy. We dwell not only on the understandable and stressful financial and political realities we face, but on synthesized, hyperbolic dramas like Tiger Wood's affairs, Sandra Bullock’s "pain" or the triumphs or losses of our beloved sports teams.
Yet when families — like the 29 West Virginia families of Upper Big Branch Mine — face the known or feared deaths of loved ones, very little else seems like it should ever glow brightly on a radar screen of life’s concerns. Something about realizing how fleeting and fragile life itself is can help us find our bearings in a world given over to celebrity and sensation. Something about pondering whether backup air supplies stored underground are sufficient to return parents to the children who fear them dead could even make us feel a little embarrassed by how closely we watched Wood’s return to the game of golf. Maybe the question of whether decent men and women will be pulled above ground alive or not could actually eclipse the blinding light focused on a professional athlete whose own character suggests he might not be the man you’d want by your side if you had to take shallow breaths, in order to share limited air.
I often help patients focus on the changes they need to make in their lives by encouraging them to consider what they would want etched on their tombstones. Because it really would be tragic to end your life favoring alcohol over your kids or work over your family or greed over God. And none of us knows how long we actually have to edit our life stories so that the final chapters redeem the earlier ones. There isn’t a season to waste. There really isn’t a day.
Not one of the families connected to the Upper Big Branch Mine tragedy has any time to waste on the foibles of famous people today. None of them have the luxury to argue over a mess in the kitchen or an extra charge on a credit card. They’re sitting with truth today — of life as fragile and invaluable, of love as a source of great power, of prayer as a source of peace and possibility.
Dr. Keith Ablow is a psychiatry correspondent for FOX News Channel and a New York Times bestselling author. His book, “Living the Truth: Transform Your Life through the Power of Insight and Honesty” has launched a new self-help movement including www.livingthetruth.com. Dr. Ablow can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.