Featured Literature of the Week: The Last Letter of Virginia Woolf

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There are two reasons for moving up the featured literature of the week from 6 April to the 2nd. First we have Easter, which the author will be spending with his family and off the laptop. Second, the topic ties in with the latest discussion on a mental illness which seems to be on the war path- which is depression. Depression is a serious illness where one in four people on average suffer from. Of the 25% affected (which the rate is climbing, by the way), half of them have thought of suicide on many occasions, whereas a quarter of them keep the illness discrete until it is too late. In the case of the Germanwings disaster that occurred on the 24 March, 2015, which killed all 150 people on board, the plane crash was done intentionally by a co-pilot who had a history of severe depression and kept everything confidential- away from everyone until the final eight minutes of the flight, where he guided the plane down to the Alps, crashing it near Nice in France.

Yet despite the recent research on this illness, depression has been noted in many literary sources, including those written by authors who had suffered this disease. Virginia Woolf was one of those authors who suffered from depression all her life. Born in 1882, Ms. Woolf was one of the popular members of the Bloomsbury Group, having produced numerous works, such as Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, Orlando, and Between the Acts. While she had married Leonard Woolf in 1912, a poor man who shared a close bond with Virginia for 25 years, depression had gotten the best of her, as she had been in and out of psychiatric clinics during the last two thirds of her life. Part of the reason behind her depression was the loss of her family and close friends during her younger years, combined with the environmental surroundings connected with fascism in Europe and subsequentially, World War II, where London was under siege in 1940-1. Much of the literary works written by Woolf and later those analysing her post humously focused on mental illness with some concluding she had suffered from bipolar depression. Finally, unable to cope with failure and loss, Ms. Woolf, on 28 March, 1941, donned on her overcoat, filled its pockets with stones, and drowned herself in a river near her home in London. Her body was found less than three weeks later.

Yet prior to her death, she had written her last letter to her husband. In it, she provided the reasons for her leaving the world, but in a way that would have made many scratch their heads. Many who try taking their lives would have poured out their frustrations and negative thoughts. However, in this letter, presented by Juliet Stevenson, Ms. Woolf looked at her life from a different angle, especially when it came to her love with her husband. Watch the clip and think about the following questions:

1. If you were in her husband’s shoes, how would you react to the letter? What actions would you take?

2. How would you try and help the person in this situation? What would you say to him/her?

3. Do you know of others affected by depression who had had similar thoughts? How did you help this person? When looking back, would you have done anything different and if so, what?

You are free to post your comments in the comment section, as well as the Files’ facebook page. Here’s the video and think about this subject:

The Files has some information about the Germanwings disaster and the author’s thoughts about the reactions of the media, which you can click here:

http://flensburgerfiles.areavoices.com/2015/04/02/focus-on-common-courtesy-badly-needed/

http://flensburgerfiles.areavoices.com/2015/03/24/germanwings-flight-crashes-in-france/ 

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Focus on Common Courtesy Badly Needed

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Normally I would not use the Flensburg Files as a podium to express my political views or opinions about a political theme. In fact, the last time I grilled a politician because of a scandal was back in 2011, when Karl-Theodor zu Gutenberg had to relinquish his post as defense minister and leave the Christian Socialist Party in Bavaria amid a plagiarism scandal involving a doctorate he wrote while at the University of Bayreuth. However in the past 24 hours, this author, after having read two articles involving the Germanwings tragedy a week ago, had to put on his boxing gloves and put in his mouth guard because of the content of the articles that were just out of this world.

We’ll start off with the column written by a student of the Joseph König Gymnasium (German for our American high school) in Haltern, located in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia. This was the school where 16 students and two teachers, plus some Spanish foreign exchange students from Barcelona lost their lives in the plane crash. While I will not go into detail describing the events that happened in response to the plane tragedy, I will sum it up in two sentences: School was let out early when students were informed that their teachers and friends were not coming back because of the crash. Then the media came hoarding in, ruthlessly and with no regard to the feelings of the community affected, just to squeeze out the information possible for the sake of reporting it to the news channel that is striving for better media viewing ratings, even if the information is distorted. This made me feel disgusted and reminded me of the Oklahoma State football coach Mike Gundy and his tirade on the media for falsifying information about one of his players in 2007, as seen in the video clip below:

While the first article was published by the Guardian in the UK and pretty much sums up the incident that is comparable to the swarm of media encircling the estate of Michael Landon, who died of cancer in 1991 (Landon, as you know, played Charles Ingalls in Little House and Jonathan in Highway to Heaven), second article published by the Star Tribune from my home state of Minnesota got my blood boiling, my hair raising as high as the skyscrapers of Dubai and my head tingling with rage. In this article, former Minnesota senator Michelle Bachmann compared US President Obama with the deranged pilot who brought down the Germanwings plane, crashing it in the Alps near Nice in France! This comment, stated by a deranged dame with no regard to the feelings of those affected by the Germanwings disaster, let alone the President of the US! With comments as barbaric as this one, you would think she would be locked up in the psychiatric ward of a mental hospital, diagnosing her as suffering from dementia or schizophrenia, right?

Well the point behind the two articles is this: We are living in a barbaric world, where everyone is fighting to get the recognition needed, gratifying himself and those he is serving. This even means using a tragedy like that of the Germanwings disaster as a weapon to defame someone, which is a crime in itself. There are times I am happy to be a teacher of English and not a journalist because I feel for the people affected right now, because they are getting the brunt from both sides. If there was a chance to go in front of the media to express my disdain towards the media in response to the events  unfolded, it would be this:

“If you are trying to get the attention that you have been craving, be prepared for the biggest disappointment in your lives because you will never (ever) get it. My parents tried to get me to become successful just by getting me to correct their mistakes (by playing American football in high school instead of singing in choir) and restore the family reputation. Do you know what happened? It failed miserably. I quit because what I did was NOT me. I wanted the microphone and play my tune for my benefit, which is the happiness that trumps any amount of money and recognition others are striving for.  So stop your harassment of my students and colleagues for the sake of money and fame, and let them be. We have to work this problem out ourselves and do not need your camera and microphones in our faces. We will do that job ourselves, and when we are good and ready to do so. Thank you!”

With as much fire as what Mike Gundy did, it would get the message across to everyone who shamefully used this tragedy for their benefit. It is time we start reintroducing common sense in our society, because we have hurt too many people and at the same time, lost our own identity to a machine that is invisible but is eating us alive by the minute. We need to look at the people out there whom we are affecting by our actions and decide, with some thinking and efforts, whether the things we’re doing will be helpful or harmful to them. 90% of the time, what we are doing because we think it is the right thing to do is, in reality, not what the others want. We sometimes misinterpret the feelings of others and assume or even classify people without even sitting down to talk to them, and even help them. Sometimes our assumptions are done because we too are unhappy with what we want in life. It is time we put an end to this senseless act and start listening to others, thinking about their feelings and putting the others in front of our needs. If they do not want to be interviewed about a disaster and the loss of their own people, then you respect their wish.  If they do not want to be followed for the sake of getting a news story, then you respect their wish. If they want to be left alone, then you respect their wish.

I hope, for the sake of the people affected by the Germanwings disaster, that the people, who have ruthlessly tried squeezing the information out of the victims’ families and friends, who have used this disaster an an analogy to name and shame politicians, and who have debatted about the causes of the disaster on the social networks, that this message is made clearly and in a language we both understand. It is time to sensitize ourselves to situations like this one and look and listen to others instead of shutting ourselves inside our bodies, treating it like we’re drivers in a car battling other drivers for a share of the highway.  It’s time to know when to take action and when to stay out. Only then will the people affected have time to digest what is going on by themselves, let alone decide when it is right to talk about it, and with whom.

Thank you for respecting this wish.

 

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