This hurts a lot.
This is going to continue to hurt for a long long time.
And this is ok.
And it is ok not only to hurt, but to express that hurt.
To know that we each and every one of us have a person who can, if not understand, be willing to listen.
And remind us - that it is ok to hurt, that there is nothing wrong with having moments when each of us is not strong, and needs help.
For when we are forced to be brave, and strong, and stoic, for days and weeks and months and years at a time, we begin to believe that we are in control of who we are - when in truth, most times, we are simply holding ourselves together, from moment to moment, appointment to schedule to sleep (and certainly not rest).
What is the result when one has nowhere to turn to express that hurt? When we are taught from birth that it is weakness to ask for help. What then?
It doesn't seem too far of a stretch to ask this question after the utterly horrific events in Sandy Hook. It is a question to be asked, certainly, but ought be only part of the focus. Let's ask it in conjunction, then, with a question that seems to continually come up in conversation -
"I feel so helpless...what can I do?"
At the beginning and the end of the day, he was, human, just like each and every one of us. Born with ten fingers and ten toes, and a mind, and a heart. This is so important to remember - because he was not born a killer. He was not born with the impetus to do these deeds.
There's a difficulty, a dangerous simplicity even, in calling the shooter "mentally ill" or "crazy". While it is certainly a blessing that the discussion of mental illness will open up after this, and it is long overdue for the stigma of needing help to be lifted from our society, to jump to the conclusion that an act of such horror immediately equates to illness...not only puts him at an arm's length and thus by definition lessens the ability to understand, but it makes an assumption that may or may not be true. Horror, sadly, does not always equate to illness - and while our modern age wishes to believe it so, there is no miraculous fix that comes with a closely moderated regimen of band-aids, therapy, and pills. In similar fashion, to simply chalk this up to his being "evil" will not suffice either for the dichotomy of good/evil is outdated in this grey world, as is trying to place the *blame* solely on guns, gun laws, lack of gun laws...upbringing, schooling, media, video games...nothing is the *sole* encouragement of such an atrocious act. These labels, so divisive and separating can not be sufficient because events and causes do not exist in a vacuum-sealed food saver package, and will never be sufficient in any manner other than to write a headline and sell news.
And none of this is ever a justification for what he did - it is never an excuse - for we each, are, ultimately, responsible for our own actions. No other. He made the choice to do what he did. And none of this is to place blame upon victims - for that in itself a horrific response. Yet, what this allows, is for us to look inside and realize that each and every one of us on every given day has the ability to ease the pain of another, and in easing the pain, heal the anger...and potentially stop something like this from ever occurring again. We owe to those who died, that much and more, that we be honest enough to look through each reflection of the prism and truthfully see where every refraction may lead.
Herein, even if just as an exercise (for there are plenty of conversations to go around about guns...let's look at this from a different angle), maybe more as a way not to cauterize, let that finger of righteous blame and opinion-turned-truth indignation, turn back toward each and every pointer...and look ourselves in the eye, through the helping hand of a mirror, as being one of the roots of these events.
Here's a portion of a photo caption from the NY Daily News just a couple of days after December 14th...
"...the troubled nerd who turned a Connecticut school into a slaughterhouse..."
How many times in school do you think he heard "Nerd!" (and worse) yelled at him? Screamed toward him with animosity and vitriol and distaste? More importantly, how many times do you think he heard that...and it brought a smile to his face? Let's venture to guess that the answer to the latter question, is zero.
Yet here is a news outlet, propagating the ridicule...to what end? To what means? For what reason? Why do we ever *make fun* of another? To make ourselves feel better, of course! Yet, do we ever consider the result of making the other person feel worse?
For when we look around we see that there is a way to *acceptably* be (so speaketh society) and being outside of the norm is met with scorn, and expulsion. Yet, when we are not one of those who is cast as a loner, and is without friends - then it is easy to miss the point and never feel what it must be like on the other side of the thin clique line...to know what it is like to be ostracized.
In beautiful convergence (as these things tend to happen), while these thoughts have been swimming for the past few days (my goodness, doesn't it already seem like years since December 14th...time having stretched meaningful moments into expansion, and slowing us down so as to not race our lives away), the galvanization of action (from the sea of idea) happened at the grocery store.
For here's something we've each experienced in some way - a glimpse, a glimmer, a moment in which we might understand the perspective of those who are not ourselves. When we walk down the sidewalk and no eye contact is made nor even a hello. When we are in an aisle at the grocery store and a product on the shelf is more interesting than who is driving the passing cart. When we stand in line and are ignored (especially in this age when staring at our smartphones renders us dumb and mute in the presence of fellow humans). This we can all understand, yes?
For years, as we were taught in youth, we would walk down aisles and say "excuse me" when passing in front of the line of sight of somebody staring at a shelf. Yet, how rare a response this is now, or to have somebody do the very same. Yet, on this one morning, standing in the spices aisle, an older man, probably in his late 50s, walked by and said without breaking stride, as natural as any act could be, "excuse me"...and it was all one could do to not jump for joy.
At the register, the cashier - you could see something was bothering her. One might assume that she, like many of us is in a still-state-of-disbelief about Sandy Hook. However, we got to talking and out came the fact that she had just come home the night before, from Pennsylvania, and a funeral for her cousin who was driving drunk and crashed her car and was killed. A discussion ensued about talking with people and not ignoring each other and how sometimes, just a "good morning" is enough to change the course of history. One never knows if, just one day before, had somebody said to the killer, "Hey, how are you, do you want to go get lunch?" if maybe this all could have been avoided. Simplistic? Yes. Overly so? Maybe even. But we can be fairly certain that not ignoring people in the aisles of a grocery store, not pretending that people don't exist and actually interacting...Well, let's agree to agree that saying "hello" and being kind never led to somebody feeling so disconnected that they can't step back, breathe, and find a way to not pick up the weaponry and drive to an elementary school.
Too complex a task? Too shy to speak to a stranger? Then remember to look behind when walking through a door and then, just pause, and hold it open for another.
Simple acts. Easy acts. Yet often forgotten acts. Caring acts. Caring acts that take so little effort. But so important - for the butterfly wings of a "good morning" or "how are you" can lead to a hurricane of peace on the other side of the world. We know it, deep inside, to be true.
So offered up in challenge is this, in response to the question of, "What can we do?" Here's the suggestion for us all - move forward, and make a point of interacting with one another.
Refuse to ignore life around us.
Refuse to not feel for fellow humans in every moment of the day.
Refuse to be caught up in the cynical cyclical wheel that turns us all into hamsters without concern for what is happening around us.
It certainly isn't everything that needs to be done, but it is something we can do. Sometimes, the most difficult action, isn't because it is an intricate action, but because that something has no tangible result. We'll never know if the actions of our kindnesses helped - but we will know that our lack of indifference hasn't harmed.
There are three ways to approach the world. One, you completely shirk away from it, and do nothing - this is INACTIVE. Two, you wait for something to happen, and then react - this is REACTIVE. Three, you see the world, and what may occur, and take action to change, to prevent, to grow - this is PROACTIVE.
We must learn to be proactive, from the lesson of the children who have grown to adults, for the sake of the children who did not get to grow, and because there are still children to come who must never ever have to live in a world in which what has happened to these twenty small angels can happen again.
We hurt from this.
We will always hurt from this.
But that's ok.
It must be ok.
We must be ok.
We will be ok.
For when each of us takes in a part of the hurt, carries a little bit of the burden, the weight dissipates across the fabric of compassion, and what we are left with is heavy enough to keep our feet on the ground, true, but can never ever dampen our desire for wings.
Travel well, angels.
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