I have found both anger and frustration in Zuccotti Park, but it did not prepare me for what I happened upon last night when the sun went down. Wandering among the protesters, away from the chain of malcontents which forms a permanent fence around the park, I met a new character, one whose role in the movement has hitherto been obfuscated by the shouting: his name is Sadness. Speak to those in the vanguard for more than a few seconds and the topic will inexorably veer sharply into moon-bat territory — 9/11 “truth,” Jewish conspiracies, sorcery, fantasies of mass execution, a New World Order — but, in the beating heart of the commune, my interlocutors wanted instead to talk about loss.
This was less funny, and entirely devoid of the oddness which permeates the boundary. One woman had lost her son to a car accident, another her husband and house to divorce. A younger man was grieving for his brother, who had shot himself. Others had less dramatic tales, but there were many more stories of hurt and heartbreak and alienation than one would usually encounter. Most of these tragedies, by admission of their narrators, have very little to do with Wall Street; but the sudden grouping of people united by anger, upset, and frustration have provided a sort of homecoming for the bereaved that has proved irresistible.
A sign adorning a tree hints at the group therapy on offer: “For the first time in my life, I feel at home.” One should never underestimate the cathartic properties of shared grievance, or of putting a name and face on the world’s problems. Misguided in its direction it may be, but it should not be ignored. On my way home, I found a public telephone with a handwritten note taped to its side. “Call me on this number,” it read. “I’m lonely and I’ll talk about anything.” Perhaps its author should head down to lower Manhattan.