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 such pain.
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.
How about you? How do you practice self care in the light of such tragedy?
*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