I’ve had a hard time writing lately, first because life got busy, and then because I fell into something of a hole. I’d been wanting to resurface but was empty handed, so it surprises me that I finally felt the avenue open on such a horrific weekend. I have nothing new to say about the desperate need that we choose to NOT be the country that allows – or even facilitates — its own citizens to be shot and killed when they are out with friends at a night club, or in a movie theater, or at an office party, or in Bible study, or walking through a mall, or sitting criss-cross applesauce in circle time on jungle animal-alphabet themed carpet in Ms. Victoria Leigh Soto‘s first grade classroom.
Orlando is horrific, all the more so because Pulse was a safe haven for the area LGBTQ community. But my horror comes from behind a cottony wall of numbness now. Which is even more horrific, actually. Something broke in me after the Sandy Hook massacre. If we aren’t the kind of people that make a change when tiny children are murdered en masse in their classrooms, then what could possibly move us to action? It was so inconceivable that I had to wall off part of myself after that to still find optimism and hope, much less grocery shop and chit chat with cashiers. My kids can’t help but hear when shootings make the news (which is every other week, it seems, and that’s only if the number of victims is greater than 4 or 5). The first question they ask is “Were any children killed?” They are afraid to walk their dog down the block because someone with a gun might be rounding the corner. They actually fear for their lives. Not from lightening strikes or Great White sharks or giant hornets with lasers on their heads, as I did at their age, but from a lone gunman opening fire in, say, their pediatrician’s office. Where will that level of stress that they now walk around with be stored and metabolized in their bodies? Yale School of Medicine recently published a report that found when children are faced with unpredictable stressors, over and over, it actually leads to significant health problems as adults. From eczema to asthma to chronic fatigue and even heart disease, kids who’ve faced chronic, unpredictable stress undergo biological changes that cause their inflammatory stress response to stay activated.
After San Bernadino, my daughter said, “Maybe if you wrote that we are scared, people would realize that children are afraid and pass laws to make it harder to get a gun.” It breaks my heart she thinks the world is so good that lawmakers must not know children like her are scared, else there would be reform. I would so rather her be focusing that amazing strategery of hers on how to get Lauren Faust to read her letter about a new idea for a My Little Pony character (seriously, Ms. Faust, read the letter. It’s a fantastic idea).
Anyway, I’ve got nothing new here, friends. Nothing profound. I’m as blindingly sick and sad and pained as you are, as everyone around me and everyone – thank god – in my Facebook newsfeed. But what I can offer is this: I can at least come out of this little hole to reach out and connect by posting this week. I can show up and talk and say “me, too,” and be in community. I can be a part of what is, inarguably, a rich and diverse community, where every single human life matters. And — this is key — we matter in concert, together.
Why write? Why create? Why call a friend when the phone weighs a thousand leaden pounds? Because hauling up our nets to the surface, to share, to find that there is something there of worth for someone else, is finding worth for ourselves. Especially when we are in pain. The grief of this world is so much heavier when held alone.
Poet and historian Jennifer Michael Hecht in her brilliant book, “Stay” does a remarkable thing – she lays out the secular moral and philosophical arguments for choosing to not take your own life. Her two primary arguments boil down to 1) you can never know what your future self might think or feel or do, and, critically, 2) we are all deeply interwoven and interconnected to each other. Suicides, then, are deeply harmful with long lasting effects, because in pulling yourself out of the fabric of community, you’ve irreparably torn and damaged the fabric, maybe even leading to more suicides. As Hecht put it, “if you want your niece to make it through her dark nights, you have to make it through yours.”
I’d argue that pulling away and silence and even numbness can be almost as deeply harmful and just as long lasting. Especially when the headlines read like they do. Especially when our nation is teetering on such a frightening precipice this election season. We have to show up, actively, for each other; we have to stay in the conversation, even if we can think of nothing more to say.
We go to radical self care in these times, we participate in community – not because we have no other options, but because it is the only option that makes sense. When we persevere a little together, when we can walk a little further, shoulder to shoulder, and share and rage and cry and maybe even laugh, then we are stronger. We become a community resilient and loving and brave enough to hold hands, not the community that didn’t take action when first graders were mowed down while reading Knuffle Bunny.
A few weeks ago, I had the incredible good fortune of climbing a mountain on my birthday with 8 of my dearest friends. We started out, not really sure we could make to the summit – a frozen lake at nearly 10,000 feet up a mountain path made more challenging by alternating hard packed, soft and then melting snow. These friends, who had flown in all points on the compass to be with me that weekend, despite their own busy lives and own personal suitcases of tough stuff, were willing to dance and laugh and cook and talk, and ultimately tackle a mountain. We weren’t prepared. We were in tennis shoes instead of waterproof hiking boots. We didn’t have snacks or walking sticks. And to everyone we met coming down the mountain (who were armed with those things along with skis, a clattering of camping pots and a 4-day beard), we asked – “How much further to Crater Lake?” Everyone, to a person, said: “15 more minutes, tops.”
After hiking nearly TWO hours after the first 15-minute lying Grizzly Adams, we reached Crater Lake. It was breathtakingly beautiful, almost as gloriously stunning as our relief and sense of accomplishment. We sat on a log in the snow, surrounding by a 360-degree pop-up book of soaring, sharp mountains, and lobbed snowballs in the lake, hollering out our intentions of what we wanted to take away, back down the mountain and into our lives. It was one of those experiences that I would trade for nothing, one that is permanently etched and will be a wellspring to draw from for a very long time. And yet, I would have never had done it if that first person we met would have said, “Oh Crater Lake? It’s a painstaking 1 and a half, maybe 2, hours up a tedious mountain path.”
I don’t know what the next four years are going to hold for our country and what that will mean for the issues and people I love. I don’t know how many more mass shootings will destroy lives and families and break hearts nationwide and terrify children into fearing public places. But maybe if we take it, together, in 15-minute increments we can move forward.
Here’s my own short term commitment: This week, I can post a blog again, because when I haul this waterlogged net of rocks and crab claws up to the surface, perhaps there is something of value mixed in there for us both. I can finish creating a Tinker’s Lab for Henry, who is desperately needing a little space of his own and a vehicle to express himself. Maybe this is week August will really cross the potty training finish line (inshallah). And I will get good productive work done, plan that weekend away trip for Steven and I, and, importantly, put in the time to reach out to a couple of friends who are hurting, as well as write another G-D letter to my congressperson urging gun reform. Oh, and I’m also going to a fermentation cooking class on Wednesday night.
I don’t know what your own 15 minutes look like, but let’s stay connected.
We can climb a little further together, and then maybe a little further still.