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Verse Chorus Verse: Pearl Jam – “Other Side”

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I woke up this morning with a nagging headache and a healthy dose of apathy.  Through these wispy gray clouds, I somehow found myself feeling grateful.  I'm a strange mix of people.  I've always been a bit of a glass half-empty sort, and I sometimes wonder if that's because I've always had the luxury of an undercurrent of blessings.  It's not that I've never experienced sorrow or pain, but you don't have to pull back very far to realize how easy I've had it.  I have a lot to be thankful for, yet I have to remind myself of that. 

I'm grateful I reminded myself to be grateful this morning, because I got a reminder of how much I have to be thankful for this afternoon when news spread that the husband of a member of our group, who also worked in this group prior to my hiring in, passed away after a grueling battle with a rare cancer.  He is survived by his wife of nearly 30 years and three children.

Through the course of his diagnosis and treatment, his wife maintained a blog to keep friends, family, and co-workers informed of his battle.  Some days were filled with hopeful stories of progress, others with tales of setbacks.  Lately the updates had been more the latter, and filled with descriptions of suffering I can't imagine.  I've heard people use the metaphor that "the cure is worse than the disease."  From a still safe distance, I got a closer look at the truth in those words than ever before.  Through it all, they remained more positive than I could imagine possible even if the circumstances were far less severe.

I find myself shaking my head, words failing me.  I wouldn't know where to begin forming them.  I feel like I don't know how I'm supposed to feel.  There's the obvious sorrow and sympathy, but I feel strangely out-of-touch.  I know his wife well enough to say hello to her in the hall.  I saw M a couple of times but don't know that I ever actually spoke to him.  My mind has been trying to arrange colors of thought swirling inside.  It feels foreign and almost forbidden to say I'm grateful that M's struggle has come to an end when that end came at the expense of his life.  It feels hollow and a little selfish to take perspective from someone else's tragedy.

In processing all of this, I found myself doing my best not to try and put myself in the shoes of M's wife.  I don't know if I could begin to imagine even if I wanted to try, yet I can't stop thinking about her.  As my thoughts wandered, I was reminded of "Other Side" by Pearl Jam.  I don't think any song could contain the full range of emotions at a time like this, but Jeff Ament created an elegant sketch that gives shape to the overwhelming flood.

I keep putting words on the page, searching, and I realize I'm not going to solve the riddles in my mind anytime soon, so we end as we begin.  My prayers and thoughts are with M's wife and kids, extended family, and close friends.

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About Josh Hathaway

  • yes, relief is often a guilt-laden emotion in these circumstances. when that doctor phoned me to say that my dad has passed, that was the first thing i felt..which sent into a tailspin of guilt. but seriosly, what can a person do? when the being is in the process of unbecoming, a pent up store of all sorts of things builds up, including sadness, anger, and fear. it’s like you’re holding your emotional breath for a long time.

    when you’re finally allowed to let it out, relief is almost unavoidable.

    nice writing josh.

    now go listen to some Ramones.

  • Kennicott

    It’s gotten to the point where, for the sake of my health, both mental and physical, I have to be very careful about what I come across on the Internet — I find the stupidity, ignorance and abusiveness unbearable. For some sick reason, a lot of that seems to attach itself to the very opposite of those things, Pearl Jam. So it was very heartening for me to read your appreciation of Jeff Ament’s Other Side, and how you made that connection that real artists live for. Thank you. And my deepest sympathy to your friends and to you. It does seem to just get harder, doesn’t it?

  • Josh Hathaway

    Thanks, El Bicho. These hangups may be my own with emotions that in some ways seem to conflict. I appreciate the kind words.

  • Nice piece. No reason to feel awkward. If the man suffered greatly, relief is a natural reaction knowing he no longer has to deal with it and his family can now grieve and heal from his loss.

    “a little selfish to take perspective from someone else’s tragedy.”

    That’s what they teach history for. Learning from the experiences of others, the victories as well as the tragedies, provide tools to live better lives.