Should We See the Loss of a Loved One?
I am a child and grandchild of firefighters, and I know something of the
pride and respect their courageous work makes for in others. My heart goes
out to the thousands of families and friends of all the persons who died
on September 11th—private citizens and uniformed workers—and
I want very much for them to know what I have learned from Aesthetic Realism,
the education founded in 1941 by Eli Siegel.
In over 20 years of study, I have seen this beginning principle of Aesthetic
Realism, stated by Mr. Siegel, as true: "Every person's deepest desire
is to like the world on an honest or accurate basis." Learning what
it means to like the world honestly is vital at any time, and very much
so when someone dear to us has died.
The most important document I know on the subject is an article by Anne
Fielding, Aesthetic Realism consultant and actress. It is about widowhood,
and yet every person needs the knowledge in it—husbands, parents, and children.
Ms. Fielding writes:
When my husband,
Sheldon Kranz, died, even as I had enormous sorrow, I had the inestimable
good fortune to be studying Aesthetic Realism and learning how to use even
this to like the world, care for people more truly, value objects more
deeply, be a better critic of myself and my dear husband.
something tragic occurs, people need to know that the world itself has
a kind, beautiful structure that makes sense: the aesthetic oneness
of opposites. This is what a woman studying in consultations was learning,
whom Ms. Fielding calls Geraldine Hale. Her consultants encouraged her
to use her late husband to care more for other people, and for the world
itself, as they asked:
If your husband
had goodness in him, didn't that goodness come from reality, which made
him, and is it still in the world? If he had strength and gentleness, can
you find these same opposites in ever so many places?
is the knowledge so needed by people now, including in the many support
groups that have been formed. Mrs. Hale began to learn that there is something
she can always count on. Her consultants asked:
Is the table you
are leaning on still steady, able to support the weight of your elbow?
Is the cup you are holding in your hand just as delicate and sturdy as
when your husband drank from it?’" She said, `Why, yes, it is.’
Mrs. Hale saw many instances of how the world has a structure of opposites,
and that these opposites are in her, too, she "felt both lighter and more
I can only imagine how difficult this year has been for so many people
in our area. Meanwhile, I am sure that they need to know what Aesthetic
Realism shows is the greatest weakener of our lives. It is contempt:
lessening of what is different from oneself as a means of self-increase
as one sees it." Contempt is ordinary, such not listening when someone
is talking to us. On a larger scale, it is the cause of all human injustice:
racism, wars, and certainly of the terrible attacks on America that early
And at a time of great loss, the world can seem like one's enemy, and the
desire for contempt can be more intense. Ms. Fielding describes how it
…take the form
of a widow's not wanting to get out of bed, talk to people, or eat. She
can also...be angry at a sunny day, hate it that other people are having
a good time, resent women whose spouses are still alive.
I not been studying Aesthetic Realism when my sister, whom I felt very
close to, died suddenly in 1985 I would have been utterly devastated, and
would have likely felt the world was a cruel, hateful place. But because
I was able to hear kind questions in Aesthetic Realism consultations, I
was able to use this tragedy to be a kinder person—which I know she would
want. I feel it crucial for people to hear this question asked by Eli Siegel:
Is this true: no
matter how much of a case one has against the world—its unkindness, its
disorder, its ugliness, its meaninglessness—one has to do all one can to
like it, or one will weaken oneself?
her article, Anne Fielding explains the practical means to strengthening
oneself, as she writes:
...what we really
need at a time of loss is the beautiful, life-giving, mind-strengthening
criticism-as-encouragement that only Aesthetic Realism provides—which opposes
our contempt and enables a woman, even as she is sorrowful, to honestly
like the world.
works as a secretary in a New York City public high school, and has presented
public seminars at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation on issues affecting
women, such as love, intelligence, and appearance.