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Doing grief properly

French flag at half-mast

Terrazzo under a Creative Commons Licence

The Monday after the Paris attacks my aerobics class was interrupted for a minute’s silence. ‘I’ve been told,’ the instructor said, ‘we’ve got to do a minute’s silence. I’m not sure what for... maybe France.’ Before you judge her, let me add that based on her name and appearance I think there’s a chance she’s Lebanese.

So 30 sweaty women in tight fluorescent Lycra sat on their fold-out steps and stared into the distance. Others at the gym leaned against the chin-up frame and hit pause on the elliptical trainer. All except for a lone swimmer with headphones in who continued to breast-stroke round the medium clockwise lane, presumably because he loves ISIS.

From the badminton court, through a speaker that no-one could find the switch for, someone faintly sang: ‘You know you wan’ it, you’re a good girl...’ And then it was over and our instructor said, ‘Thank you. Now let’s do bums.’

Compulsory grief is not only pointless; looked at objectively, it’s grotesque and insulting… It serves as the ultimate whitewash

The media acts as self-appointed police on the grievy-train. The British opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn has faced criticism for the crimes of both ‘failing to sing the national anthem loud enough’ and ‘not bowing deeply enough at a memorial ceremony’. Perhaps his leather-bound copy of Debrett’s Comprehensive Etiquette Guide to Demonstrating Respect for the Dead was still on order.

It’s normal to feel sad about events like these. But if we know anything about grief, it certainly isn’t notorious as an emotion that adheres well to a tight corporate schedule. Particularly not one that slots it in directly before exercises intended to give you buns of steel.

Compulsory grief is not only pointless; looked at objectively, it’s grotesque and insulting. I gain no comfort from imagining that after my likely assassination the women of France will do marginally fewer burpees.

Furthermore, it serves as the ultimate whitewash. The news is plastered with warmongering politicians conspicuously grieving to Camera Three. While they order ill-considered drone strikes and approve arms trades with murderous regimes like Saudi Arabia, the platitudes about ‘families and loved ones’, ‘thoughts and prayers’ and ‘this difficult time’ are utterly nauseating.

Let’s do grief properly. If you really – really – think about the brutal, cruel, pointless, agonizing, vile murders of innocent people and the only reaction it engenders in you is a willingness to stop doing aerobics for 60 seconds, there is something pathologically wrong with you. 

Instead, let’s tear the ‘defence’ industry down, brick by brick. Let’s chase down every hypocritical politician and demand they answer our questions and face the truth. Let’s chain ourselves to every set of railings, blockade every weapons convoy, disrupt every arms fair. And demand every innocent family fleeing war and violence is welcomed with open – human – arms and treated with respect.

Otherwise what is our grief for?

Kate Smurthwaite is a comedian and activist. katesmurthwaite.co.uk @Cruella1

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