I first started writing this post in my head while I was working in the kitchen with my little boy. He was painstakingly cutting out leftover gingerbread dough. He had flour smudges on his cheek and forehead. His nose was snuffly. His pants were falling down.
My little boy is six, the age of most of the children who were killed last week. When I realized this, several days after the fact (because I’m slow), all the air whooshed out of me like I had been kicked in the gut. Oh, the unspeakable, heart-wrenching agony those families are going through!
Shortly after this realization (and after letting myself have a good
cry), I made a deliberate decision to stop thinking, reading, listening,
or talking about the shooting.
I realized that I could spend hours mulling over the pain of those families. I could superimpose their reality over mine, imagining what it would feel like to go through such suffering. Inevitably, I’d start to hurt as though I actually might understand what they’re going through. I’d feel sad. I’d grow anxious, worried, and depressed. I know myself. This is how I respond.
The truth is, however, that I don’t understand their pain. I couldn’t possibly because it’s not my reality. Letting my mind play over the horrific happenings does me no good. It doesn’t do any good for my family, nor does it do any good for the grieving families.
See, I do not know those families. This does not mean I don’t care about them, because I do. As a human, I am connected to them. We share the same culture. We share the parent-child bond.
But honestly, how much can I really care about someone I’ve never met? For me, caring demands a hands-on response. It means dropping what I’m doing to meet someone where they’re at. When our friends’ son went missing, we dropped and went. When my girlfriend’s husband was dying, I dropped and went. When my children are crying, I drop and go. (Though sometimes I don’t. It depends on the kind of cry.)
There have been so many different responses as a result of this tragedy. Some people are weepy, others angry. Some people act like nothing has happened. Others are debating gun control and mental illness. There are people who feel like they can’t continue on with glorious everyday life in the face of
None of these reactions are wrong. We all have our own ways of processing. But in order to take care of myself, I have to draw a line somewhere. There are tragedies all over the world all the time. If I internalized them all, I’d be stuck in bed forever.
Perhaps this sounds selfish. Maybe narrow-minded or naive. But I think not. Some battles I am forced to fight, whether or not I want to. But I have a choice on others. Just as I am careful how we structure our days, what people we relate to, what movies we watch and books we read, I am also careful of what types of emotional/political/theological/etc. struggles I will allow myself to engage in.
The other day on a walk with my sister-in-law, we discussed the shooting. Which then got us talking about other horrors—Rwanda, North Korea, etc.
“Sometimes I wonder if it does any good for me to even know about this stuff,” she said. “We think it’s important to know but maybe it’s not.”
I wonder the same thing. What good does it do us, hearing about every kidnapping, shooting, robbery, and rape that happens the world over? Are we a more compassionate society than we were a hundred years ago? I doubt it. Perhaps we’re more savvy, sophisticated, street smart, educated, and globally aware, but I don’t think those characteristics ensure an increased level of compassion. In fact, they may even hinder it.
A couple days ago, my older son said, “People keep saying that you should always say good-bye when you leave because you never know when it will be your last good-bye.”
“Well, yes,” I said, suddenly exasperated. “You should say good-bye, but do it because it’s good manners and because people need to know you’re leaving, not because you’re afraid you won’t see them again. That’s kinda morbid.”
Because of the shootings, everyone is being advised to hold their babies extra tight. On several different occasions I’ve allowed myself to do this, to soak up their sweetness while thinking of the mothers who can no longer hold their own children.
But then I make myself stop because it somehow feels wrong to use someone
elses grief to intensify my love for my children. I want to hold my babies simply because I love them.
It is not easy, even impossible sometimes, to turn the sadness off. On the other hand, sometimes the sadness gives us pause and helps us to become more thoughtful, more sensitive, more authentic. My genetic make-up is such that the sadness pulls me down into depression, a depression that is neither virtuous or necessary.
*Thanks to this post for providing clarity.
*Here’s some questions and lots of thoughtful comments regarding the shooting and why it feels so close.
Update: Lenore reposted this on Free Range Kids!
This same time, years previous: Christmas pretty, middle-of-the-night solstice party, lemon cheesecake tassies
I think that much of the time, as Americans, we focus our worry on tragedies that are unlikely to touch our lives rather than on the more tedious things that could actually protect our families. The likelihood of your child dying in a situation like in Newtown is far less likely, statistically, than your child drowning in the bathtub. It's a similar situation to SIDS. SIDS is tragic and terrible but really of all the things that could happen to your child that is pretty far down the list. It's more likely that you will be in a car accident with your child. And more likely than either of those two comparisons is the slow long term damage done to children via fast-food and processed food. That is statistically incredibly likely but also requires a lot of extra effort and the consequences seem really distant.
I think it is important to be aware of some of the tragedies that occur in our country and others…it's important to know of the suffering of others to 1. Help if you can, and 2. Be reminded of what you do have. I agree that you should be holding your baby tightly but because you simply love them and are glad to have them.
Superimposing the tragedy of others over your own life though is really, ultimately, a waste of time. That doesn't mean you can't be compassionate but it's not helpful or productive to dwell on negative things especially if it leads to depression. It makes much more sense to acknowledge what happened, feel compassion, keep it in mind when you are voting, and then return to trying to enjoy the life you have rather than have your life pass you by as you spend all of your time living tragedies in your imagination. **it has taken me a lot of therapy to say all of that 😉
I am honored that you found my post helpful and chose to link to it on your blog. I loved reading through your emotions as they changed and developed over the week. I had many of the same thoughts. Here's to turning off the news and enjoying the season with a happy heart. Wishing you a safe and happy Christmas. 🙂
It is paralyzing to feel the depth of pain caused by such an event. Like many, I find it easier to sink into the depths and just give up. But how does my sorrow make theirs less?
I don't want the childhood of so many other kids diminished, too.
Thank you for articulating this so well. Truly, it does hit you so hard in the gut that it robs your breath. And staying in that poisoned, sorrowful place doesn't change what has happened. Yes, we need to witness and honor these families. But we also need to give them and us– society- the space to heal: not with a microphone constantly at the ready. Multi-faceted, indeed.
here's the thing: if I knew as much about the good going on globally as I know about the bad, then I could see the worth of international news reporting. Why is it only news if it's a tragedy? My rubbernecking side doesn't need ANY encouragement, you know?
So, I agreed very much with what you wrote and how well you wrote it. This is a message that I want people to hear. And I checked out the free-range repost and I'm so proud!
For me, the only purpose for knowing stuff like this or thinking about it is for the purpose of prayer. Its become a way of making sense of how I'm created- able to feel deeply the pain of others. Its my way of seeing purpose in that and experiencing it as a gift not as something that slays me. There's no other way for me to survive!
You Can Call Me Jane
Well written, friend. I feel much like you. You're absolutely right that people respond differently and that that's okay. I think one of the reasons so many people are coming out passionate about different issues/causes is because we might just go insane if we realize that this (and many other terrible issues going on around the world) is such a multi-faceted problem. I am thankful to and for those who are able to champion the causes because, I, like you, take a more quiet approach. I can pray, I can continue to keep one eye on the world, but I think that one of the best things we can do is be personal (like you mentioned) and reach out to one or two hurting people that we know and make a difference in their lives. Can you imagine if we all did that? I girl can dream, can't she?
P.S. I miss you already.
the domestic fringe
I posted this comment on Facebook this morning.
"Our world is a different place today. It may not have ended, but it is changed forever. Sadly it is our children who feel the difference the most.
I couldn't walk to class with my daughter and hand her teacher the platter of cupcakes this morning. Instead I had to hug Annaliese goodbye in the office and see the sad little look on her face. It's not a big deal, except to her. I also couldn't hold the door open for the mom who had stacks of cookies filling her arms. Sadness.
Don't get me wrong, I'm thankful my kids are being watched over careful. It's handy to have the police chief at school, because he helped me find my car keys when I managed to lose them between the sidewalk and the front doors, but he shouldn't have to be there. My son said this should be the happiest time of the year, but now it's hard to be happy.
This Christmas, remember to shut the news off for a few minutes and put a smile on your face. Do it to honor the children who lost their young lives, and do it for all the kids around us. They are reminded every single day of tragedy, let's help them remember the joy and blessings of Christmas."
Yes, sometimes it's all too much. We inadvertently hurt more children in the aftermath of such tragedy.
Wise words. I agree with much of what you said. I do, however, think that it's important to know about the horrifying things that happen in the world – if, you do your part (whatever that means to you) to help try to change the world. If we bury our heads in the sand then, I believe, evil triumphs. How many more would have died in the Holocaust if the world hadn't finally paid attention, and acted?
I also believe that it's important to listen to the words that the parents have spoken about their children. It's one way that I've been able to honor their memories.
I also believe that it's important to do something in the face of tragedy. For me that's been multi-faceted. I'm involving myself, as a parent and a teacher, in the debate over gun control and mental health. I'm tired of the NRA having such a loud voice without being countered by those on the other side. I'm also planning to do acts of kindness in honor of the victims. (This was Ann Curry's suggestion – there are some wonderful articles written about what other people have been doing). Over the next year I'll be making donations in honor of the victims and their families, and writing their pastors to tell them about the donations.
I feel the need to balance the evil in the world with good. Although I don't know these families, that doesn't diminish the pain I feel for them. No, I certainly don't know what they feel. I can't even begin to imagine the horror. But, I can let them know that I care. I can do what little I can to make a difference.
"Be the change you wish to see in the world." Gandhi