Growing up as a ’90s kid, I traded $49.99 of my hard-earned allowance for a priceless treasure: GameShark. With it, no Mew was too hard to capture; no Ganon too difficult to defeat.
That is, until the code wound up invalid after spending 30 minutes of timely dial-up web browsing between my mom’s important phone calls. Suddenly, what was unlikely to begin with made me far more frustrated at failing to grasp because of the fast-track promise of gratification left unfulfilled.
For those of you who either did not grow up in the ’90s, never had an invalid GameShark cheat code, or just don’t happen to be somewhat of a nerd like me, let me come at this from a different angle: Resolutions.
How are those coming for you three weeks into the new year? Likely, the scope of what your resolution is and the little gains made are wearing thin the thread that ties you to follow-through.
One more angle. I know, you are wondering where this is going and what the title and image have anything to do with one another.
Funerals. Yes, your Game Boy has probably had its techno-sendoff equivalent. But no, that’s not where I am going. Stay with me.
An ever-more common ritual around these passages of death in American culture, both in secular and religious circles, is turning memorials into celebrations. Whether it is funerals themed to the deceased’s loved pastimes like disco parties and stops on the way to the graveside for some Big Macs and double cheeseburgers (check it out) or worship services that seem to act like the person is still in the room and the pain of their absence not felt — we skip over reality.
In all these examples, we live in a culture that promises instant gratification. But it is leaving us with fuller voids, perpetual pains and deepened anxieties.
The illusion we set for ourselves magnifies these circumstances, like the promise of a cheat code making what seemed unattainable all the harder to accept. An illusion that ignores pain and long-term vision will ultimately enhance the inevitable grief that life brings or make one’s grief seem like an isolated incident.
Back to Game Boy. If I never knew of the GameShark’s existence, the unlikelihood of capturing Mew wouldn’t have caused me the same pain and deep-seated frustration that a simple glimmer of false-led hope did.
Its instant allowance stole whatever joy I had in the video game when it did not meet expectations.
Our resolutions promise an improved self, but they are offered with images of selves that no one-year resolution could ever provide. They discourage and isolate the person as a failure, unaware of the 2 percent change those individuals had made in their eating habits, exercise routines and sleep patterns for more than 10 years — not to mention body structure and genetics that limit the possibility for exactly the same results.
Our funerals do not let us stop to mourn. They provide continued illusions of this instant gratification of instantly overcoming grief with celebration, but this ignorance of grief allows the enhancement and isolation to go unhindered in wrecking havoc to our emotional, psychological, spiritual and relational well-being.
There’s an Old English word, landmodig, that came with it a meaning of “patience under offense.” It’s where we get the modern idea of long-suffering: patiently enduring lasting offense or hardship.
Is it any wonder that an ability to be patient requires acknowledging the suffering? To walk in a hard direction with resolve to continue in it.
Too often though, we are like an injured player hyped-up on adrenaline, numb to the pain. We are numbed by ever-larger (and more frequent) “big sales” and lottery-like swipes on mobile devices for a new fix of latest surface-level news from friends and followers.
Our news feeds are worse than any notion of fake news, sterilized of miscarriages, divorces, misdemeanors, diagnoses — to name a few. Have you ever noticed that sometimes those with whom you later learn suffered a great hardship seemed to pick up their pace of posting positive images on social media?
This only compounds the grief that person feels, isolates their grief from a shared humanity — all because we are a culture who can’t stand suffering. We are a culture built on the pursuit of happiness, but it is a hard-road toward suffering, eventually.
We will suffer loss. Loss of friends in misunderstandings. Loss of loved ones as we know them through cancer and dementia. Loss of physical bodies in death. Yet, we insist on white-washed hospital rooms with paint and bleach.
Creating a healthy diet begins with first cutting off the habits and norms that lead to the opposite. It is ordering water instead of Coke. It is letting dinner be your final meal instead of sneaking in a midnight snack. It is replacing empty calories with whole nutrients.
Properly working through grief begins with staving off the fast-food gratification that we have come to know and love.
We make our resolutions, but slow down our expectation of results. A lot of times, it just hurts at the start. Like that injured player, the game will end and then the pain of ignorance will catch up.
Being aware of this cultural trend of ignoring pain is a start, but like any addiction, the withdrawal is painful. Hence, the difficulty to give up an addiction to its absence.
Recognize that slowing down is the necessary step to feel. To be aware.
Too many of us are running on schedules that are inhuman. Caffeinating and makeup-sessions-while-driving commuting have their limits.
Those in burnout have to actually stop to realize how bad it actually is. Those with ungrieved hurts will come to discover their packed iCalendars were there in an attempt to bury what was always still at the surface.
We slow to a stop, face death head-to-head and acknowledge it sucks. It’s messy. It steals and dirties.
Every human being is three things at the same time: One who has dreams of an Eden-like state, one who feels the pain of paradise lost and one who knows another who feels that pain of loss.
If slowing down is a necessity for you in recovering what instant gratification steals, then stopping words coming out of your mouth is a necessity for others to experience that same healing — and what your friends need to offer you.
We love to explain away everything.
“I know that I shouldn’t be upset he broke up with me.”
“I know that I shouldn’t have wanted that job so badly.”
“I know that God is in control.”
But sometimes, we need to just shut it after saying one thing: “This hurts.”
We don’t need to justify everything, because deep down, we all share this sense that what they/she/he/we are experiencing is universal.
It’s a universal whisper that we begin to notice when we actually slow down. This isn’t how it is supposed to be.
We stop and face death in silence. Let the absence of voices and all the cries of your soul meet the void. There’s balm in the tears.
Accept sans pattern.
We pick up our Game Boy and play for the fun of it and the hope that maybe we will get the Mew or finally defeat Ganon. It’s possible, but not guaranteed.
We are a culture that prides itself in vision. Dreams. Aspirations. We scoff at those Europeans who take months off from work. We find it absurd that island nations apply laissez-faire work ethic.
This step is honestly the hardest, most subtle element of instant gratification. Like the microscopic shackle of sugar that appears in everything to keep you tied to the foods you should no longer love, instant gratification has a presumption we have to let die: Set action = set result.
I know what you are doing right now, stopping and rereading that paragraph, because the obviousness is increasingly becoming more obvious. Instant gratification assumes a set action will provide what I want. Immediately.
Instant gratification assumes that visiting Starbucks with a credit card will allow instant pay for the liquid drug.
Instant gratification assumes that fiber internet will stream at an instant 4K Netflix without glitch.
Instant gratification assumes that which our limited perspective could never adequately equate for causation.
In other words, there are far too many variables in life for us to prepare for all scenarios. Not all of us can hold the Time Stone (told you I was a nerd). Our plans have limits.
Starbucks might have their machines down in the morning.
Xfinity might not have considered your neighbor siphoning WiFi from your otherwise giga-fast speeds.
You can be all for non-GMO, not place an ounce of chemical substances on your body and still develop cancer.
We cannot plan away pain. We are mortal.
Our god-complex needs to know its place. I think those “crazy islanders” have something to teach us crazy Americans.
I don’t want to be the parent who makes my children believe all ground is as soft as the faux wood chip floor of the neighborhood’s park. I don’t want to be the friend who tells a hurting heart that it could be worse. I don’t want to be the family member who smiles throughout a eulogy.
I don’t want to, nor do I, assume this article will be the GameShark to your grief. But, sometimes, knowing you are not the only one cheated by the code maker’s lie is the start.
You’re not alone in being duped by instant gratification.
- “Long-Suffering.” Merriam-Webster.com, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/long-suffering. Accessed 25 Jan. 2019.