The Day Thanos Snapped His Fingers: A Moment of Shared Loss and Empathy

by Michael D. Crandall  ©2019

Originally published on LinkedIn on June 7, 2019

by Michael D. Crandall  ©2019

If you are new to my articles please note that I now have two separate article series which I am writing and will continue to work on. While I have many articles roughed out I have not kept up the publication times which I anticipated. If you are managing a staff of international student advisors or any other type of professional unit I still have articles with further tools and tips which I will be posting. This article however will be more focused on providing a cross-cultural insight into the lived experience of a population of people through the lens of popular culture imagery. Hopefully, as we explore this concept we can learn more about how to apply a trauma informed lens and develop additional empathy and sensitivity in providing services to those whose experiences involve transnational migration and loss and grief.

As in any work of this nature it is important to state that if you have not yet watched Avengers Infinity War the movie or the Avengers Endgame movie you may wish to stop reading right now because there will be spoilers as I will be using imagery from these two movies to act as an illustrative lens for consideration.

In Avengers Infinity War we see the Avengers individually and collectively engaging in herculean efforts in their fight against Thanos to prevent him from gathering the infinity stones and completing his self-assigned mission to resolve issues of overpopulation in a Universe of finite researches. He wishes to use the infinity stones which allow him to reshape reality with snap his fingers and in one moment cause 1/2 of the population of the Universe to cease to exist.

The idea of a Universe where half of the population suddenly ceases to exist is unthinkable and is something which deserves heroic action to prevent. Yet this movie doesn’t give us the easy out. It doesn’t give us the feel good ending. Rather it leaves us with a deeply unsettling feeling from having seen Thanos snap his fingers and having watched as individuals we have come to know and love dissipate. Even though the process is sudden, relatively instantaneous and in mostly painless there is a sense of loss. In the theater where I watched this movie there was silence, some tears were shed as we watch Black Panther, Spiderman and other individuals who were valued and loved parts of our life suddenly, permanently and completely disappear. We in the theater and the remaining characters on the screen are left with the challenge of how do we move on? How do we go forward from this world altering, life changing event.

This idea is picked up in the next movie Avenger Endgame which comes into play five years later. No individual who experienced the snap and lived is unchanged by the events that took place five years before. Their world had been altered, Relationships had been lost people were foundering trying to figure out how to re-establish new relationships and how to deal with the sense of loss brought about by “the snap”. We see individuals engaging in group therapy, we see others falling into the depths of depression or anger, others living in denial, and still others trying to figure out who they are in the new reality. Some individuals are stuck in the pain from the past while others are moving on. In the theater we feel their hurt and empathize. We recognize that even in the midst of fighting depression Thor is still worthy. We feel Hawkeye’s pain at the loss of his loved ones and understand his anger even if we do not agree with how he is dealing with it. We feel the loss of Steven Rogers as a man who has now lost his world twice within a short period of time. In the theater you can feel the emotional empathy that we share with these characters. Watching this movie is not a clinical detached exploration into the Marvel Cinematic Universe but this is a deeply personal and emotionally touching shared experience in our world. Which is why when we finally hear Falcon utter the words “On your left” to Steve Rogers and the portals open up and we see all of our lost friends, heroes, and loved ones restored to us we collectively audibly cheered in the auditorium. That which was lost is restored and a heaviness that existed on our hearts lifted.

As a Third Culture Kid and Army Brat I have often struggled with finding the words to share to help people understand the challenges that a highly mobile lifestyle can have on individuals and I thank the MCU for spending 22 movies laying to foundation to help me finally have a reference which will hopefully help communicate the challenges many TCKs experience.

  • I was born in San Jose, Costa Rica then four months later *SNAP*
  • I was in Kent, Washington and a month after that *SNAP*
  • I was in Fort Benning, Georgia when 12 months later *SNAP*
  • I was back to Kent, Washington for 13 months when *SNAP*
  • I found myself in Fort Carson, Colorado for five months and *SNAP*
  • I was in Norfolk, Virginia for 5 months then *SNAP*
  • I was back in Kent, Washington for 12 months, and *SNAP*
  • I found myself in Omaho, Nebraska for 7 months and *SNAP*
  • I was back to Kent, Washington for 2 months then *SNAP*
  • landed in Bangkok, Thailand where I lived for 22 months and *SNAP*
  • I found myself in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri for 29 months until *SNAP*
  • I spent 10 months in Fort Ord, California when *SNAP*
  • I found myself in the Canal Zone in Panama for 1 month *SNAP*
  • I found myself in Caracas, Venezuela for 15 months then *SNAP*
  • I found myself in San Francisco, California for 22 months, when *SNAP*
  • I found myself in Dunsmuir California for 25 months and finally *SNAP*
  • I found myself in Mesa, Arizona.

In 18 years of life I experienced 16 different major *SNAPS.* Each time new orders were cut we packed, we moved, and everyone we knew, dissipated and disappeared in a moment. Only those few (five members of my immediate family) who survived the *SNAP* were there when the dust settled and even then two of those individuals did not survive the entire journey as they disappeared heading off for college when I was in Venezuela and then in California so the only ones who survived the final *SNAPS* were myself, my mother and father.

Just like not everyone of the Avengers who survived the snap reacted the same and all showed some level of resiliency and desire to live and fight back, not all TCK’s who experience these types of *SNAPS* in their lives will fall into depression or act out in anger but all were impacted at one level or another by the events. Those like Captain America who had survived the loss of his world once already tried to call on what he had learned before to look forward and cope with the loss but we recognized his trauma and were grateful with the fact he could be restored to the friends and loved ones he lost.

The reality is TCKs do not get a do over, do not get their world back, don’t have their relationships restored after the *SNAP*. They have to learn to cope, to be resilient and to look forward but their journey is not just a romantic travelogue of visiting exotic locals, having interesting experiences and meeting cool people (although all of that does happen). It is also an experience of learning to cope with intense and unresolved loss and learning to function in a *SNAP*