Please use this blog to help us remember Joshua Lee Anderson, who made the tragic and fatal decision to take his life on Wednesday, March 18, 2009. Please post any memories or thoughts you may have in the comments.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Grief of Achilles in The Iliad

I have recently read The Iliad by Homer and was struck by Achilles' reaction upon hearing the news of his best friend's death in battle.
...the black cloud of sorrow closed on Achilles.  In both hands he caught up the grimy dust, and poured it over his head and face, and fouled his handsome countenance, and the black ashes were scattered over his immortal tunic.  And he himself, mightily in his might, in the dust lay at length, and took and tore at his hair with his hands and defiled it......Antilochos mourned with him, letting the tears fall, and held the hands of Achilles as he grieved in his proud heart, fearing Achilles might cut his throat with the iron...(Book 18: 22-34).
Many journal writing books espouse an exercise called "free-write" whereby for a certain length of time, you write whatever comes to mind.  The pen does not lift from the paper and you do not stop.  Even if it means writing the same word over and over until another thought or image flows from mind to pen to paper.  I decided to devote a couple of 15 minute sessions to this quote.  In focusing on the first sentence, this is a portion of what I wrote in my journal:
When Achilles heard about Patroklos' death, his reaction was both emotional "black cloud of sorrow" and physical.  This black cloud - not grey, not cream, not white as clouds usually are, but black, dark, ebony, rich and deep - this cloud closed on Achilles.  Enveloped him.  He was in a fog of sorrow - for that is what fog is - a cloud resting on the earth's surface which can become so thick, one cannot see.  If driving, one must pull over.  If flying, the plane is grounded.  A fog will render you senseless - cannot see, hearing is muted.  All sense of direction lost; landmarks are invisible.  The world is alienating, distorted and frightening.  In a fog I feel insecure and vulnerable like someone or something can come out to grab me.   To be in a 'black cloud of sorrow' - nothing will look or feel the same.  Everything is felt, seen, tasted, heard through the fog.  Like lens on a glass - everything will look black.  Feel black.  There is a black veil or sheath covering everything.  Living, sleeping and breathing in the black cloud of sorrow so that it is internal - no longer out of the body but within.
The next day I wrote this:
When Achilles heard about Patroklos' death and was enveloped in the black fog of grief, sorrow, pain and woe, he had a physical reaction.  An outward sign of inward pain.  He bent down and grabbed dirt, dust, Earth and poured it over his head - a self baptism - rubbing it all over his face.  Priam, King of Troy did something similar when he heard of his son Hektor's death - he took dung and smeared it on his head and neck.   Both fouled themselves saying my beloved is dead; I do not care about outward things any longer.  Why dirt? Why dung?  What would be the equivalent today?  Maybe someone who is so depressed they do not shave or shower, put on make-up, deodorant or perfume.  They wear the same thing, day after day.  Who cares what you look like or wear in the 'black cloud of sorrow'?  Achilles then drops to the ground, this mighty warrior whom no man could stand against, lays prostrate on the dirt in agony and grief.  Then, in an effort to feel real, searing, physical pain, he takes tufts of hair in his hands and yanks them out.  
Writing all this made me think of our reactions on that dreaded day.  And specifically how one of our daughters, whom Tim could not contact as she was in class - oblivious and naive to the tragedy that would change her life, listening to the lecture, taking notes and answering questions posed by the professor - when she heard the news from two best friends who were waiting outside the door, she collapsed and become almost catatonic.   Her friends somehow got her back to her room where she just sat on the bed while they packed her bag.  UVA is a good two hours away and thankfully, these two friends (angels) drove our girls home.  There is no way they could've driven themselves.

Feeling faint, knees buckling, doubling over, collapsing, sobbing, gasping, screaming, throwing up, punching walls, breaking things, or just going numb and still - all are physical reactions to the sudden news of a beloved's death.  Instantaneous and uncontrollable - each body will react differently as the mind absorbs the unthinkable and unimaginable.

I will end with this quote from The Iliad, ancient literature written centuries before Christ, of another vow from the living to the dead.   Achilles says of Patroklos:
I will never forget him, never so long as I remain among the living and my knees have their spring beneath me.  And though the dead forget the dead in the house of Hades, even there I shall still remember my beloved companion (Book 22: 387 - 390). 
I could say the same of Josh.  RIP beloved son - you are still remembered and will be as long as I have breathe in my body and even afterwards.....

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