In the wake of last week’s terrible tragedies I have been reflecting yet again on how I respond to such events. I had a sudden recollection of hearing of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 when I was a stay at home mother of a toddler and preschooler. They were napping and I sat down on my bed and simply cried, trembling at the realization that acts of terror could be “here” rather than far away. I wonder now how I heard the news. I think a friend told me and then I probably turned on the TV. Now more than two decades later, the news is ever present via my iPhone, and shootings and bombings are sadly ubiquitous. Sometimes I cry and mourn, other times it’s too much and I become numb or just avoid it altogether. Since becoming conscious that certain tragic events receive greater coverage and public outcry than others, I’ve tried to be more aware of all the places that are suffering beyond just those that connect to me personally in some way.
The Dallas shootings last week coincided with a night that I already could not sleep, and the news came to me well after midnight via text from my oldest son who was visiting friends out on the west coast and forgot the time difference. (Why I was looking at my phone in the middle of the night will have to be a different post!) Friday dawned and I was a complete wreck with exhaustion. By blessed coincidence Joe and I had already planned a weekend away, about an hour from here at a place his family has owned since his childhood, fondly known as the Farm. It’s a number of acres in rural Ohio where we have many memories and there is no Wifi. Awake very early on Saturday morning my mind was going at a million miles an hour. I couldn’t let these tragedies go by without doing something. Should I write my legislators again? Write to the whole Congress? Join Black Lives Matter? Initiate new Red Boot meetings? All of the above? Around and around it went.
Hints of a beautiful sunrise filtering through the window shade called me to get up even though it was only 6:00 am. As the coffee brewed, I did a few stretches and walked quietly around the house, looking out the windows. Stepping outside, I moved a chair into the field for the best view of the sunrise. Dew chilled my feet, darkened the foot beds of my Birk sandals. The symphony of birds and insects sounded distinctly different than at home. Light of the emerging sun reflected on the barn. I just sat there surrounded by cool clean air with clear blue sky above. Then a rooster crowed from down the
road! Just as the sun peaked over the horizon. Increasingly bugs began to nip at me, buzzing angrily as if I were disturbing their turf so I moved to the patio. Following the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012 the wisest words I read came from Buddhist teacher Susan Piver: “Using ideas to treat or metabolize feelings is ineffective. Then what? I’m afraid that there are only a very few things we can do other than to be absolutely, irredeemably heartbroken . . . I’m not saying we shouldn’t act. WE SHOULD. But before we act, we should feel.” In this interlude of serene beauty at the Farm, space opened up for me to feel my actual feelings. Somewhat to my surprise, the strongest emotion was Fear — of guns, of violence, of hate, of what might happen next. Then I understood how Fear takes me to a black and white, either-or mindset, as though now is Bad and there was some idealized time before that was Good. Fear wants me to yield to that spiral, to fall further and further into helplessness, ever more tightly wrapped in paralysis, wringing my hands. “Oh no, nothing can be done. We’re doomed.” Fears pushes me to numb, to distance, to hide, to label.
But Hope says instead, stay open. Open your eyes to the beauty all around you. Open your heart and let it be broken by the pain of so many, including the very Earth beneath my feet. Go ahead and cry, lament and grieve. But also hug and garden and write and gather together with real live people to work for change. Offer healing and hospitality. Hold space for all of it — the pain, the beauty, the loss, the violence, shots fired, man down, plants growing, children laughing. The sun rising and setting day after day.
Returning home the next day I had an email from a friend looking for companions to attend the Black Lives Matter protest and march downtown that very afternoon. My inner Yes came from a completely different place than my previous frantic musings about “what to do.” and I approached the event with greater openness, fewer expectations. Standing beneath the beating sun outside police headquarters, I listened to stories from family members of people killed by police that were heartbreaking. I listened to harsh statements about police that were hard to hear because of my work in local government and friendships with police officers. I walked through the streets of downtown in a massive crowd of people chanting “Black Lives Matter”,”Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” and “No Justice, No Peace.” I placed a flower at the site where Timothy Thomas was killed by police in 2001 which sparked riots. In the end I was just grateful for the experience of being there, for the presence of people speaking up and taking peaceful action, and I’m open to whatever comes next.
Beautiful, Peg. Yes to all you said here.