There is an old custom of wearing black while you are in mourning. Some people would wear all black clothes, while others would just wear black armbands. People still wear black clothes, but it isn’t just for grief. They will wear black just because they like wearing black.
So the meaning is lost. People don’t know if you are grieving, or just fashionable.
The purpose of wearing black to indicate grief was to warn others to be a little more gentle with you. You had your leave time that you were allowed from work, and now you are back. Whether it was three days or a week, it isn’t ever enough, especially if it was someone close to you.
Wearing black while you are grieving is a bit like wearing a “trainee” tag. It tells other people that you aren’t quite all here yet, and to go a little more slowly. It is a kindness to them and to you, to not expect much out of you for a while.
But perhaps we should all do that, all the time. Perhaps we should all treat each other with a little more kindness and cut each other a little more slack.
Everybody we see is struggling with something. Everybody has suffered a loss or has a problem. “Dysfunctional” is the new normal for families, don’t you know? We all are faking it, and we all aren’t making it. We are just getting by as best we can.
Now, problems can also come in when we think we are the only ones who are suffering, or that our pain is worse than anybody else’s.
I remember a time where a patron said that she wanted to get on disability because she had migraines all the time. She went on and on about it. Every time she came in she told her tale of how hard life was. She was really wrapped up in her own problems. So I decided to share. I told her that I’m on medication for the rest of my life for three different chronic conditions.
I wanted her to understand that we all have our burdens to carry. She got it, and softened.
Buddha told a story about a lady whose young son had died. She went to every person in the village, carrying her dead child with her. She refused to admit that he was dead and begged each person for medicine. One kind person directed her to the teacher, Buddha, who lived in the village.
When he saw her, he understood exactly what the real problem was, and how to address it. He told her to ask for a mustard seed from every person in the village who had not ever grieved. She was to then come back to him with the mustard seeds and he would make a medicine for her from them.
She went from hut to hut, and every person she talked to had experienced grief. Every person had lost someone they loved.
She had no mustard seeds, but she had the medicine she needed. She understood that she was not alone in her suffering. Her life was not harder than anyone else’s. At that moment, she finally was able to accept that her child had died, and bury him. At that moment, she was able to rejoin the community.
May we all be kinder with each other.
May we all understand we are equal in our suffering.