I was all set to sit down today and write a lighthearted little post sharing some hilarious things my kids have said at the dinner table – you know, a happy change of pace from the ponderous tone of my last entry.
Then Newtown happened. And suddenly I’m not feeling so lighthearted anymore.
Which is a little odd, when you think about it, since this is, what, the seventh mass shooting THIS YEAR? (No, really.) And that’s not even getting into Columbine or Virginia Tech, or Fort Hood, or … And yet somehow I’ve been able to wax comedic when the mood took me. All killing is heinous, it’s true. But the murder of children is surely a special kind of evil. When I first heard about the shooting it was before there was any count for the victims, and as the numbers started coming out I was increasingly aghast. My horror culminated when I read that the deaths were “concentrated in a kindergarten classroom” – I think that’s when it became difficult to hide my sobbing from the three-year-old. Because oh, my god. Kindergarteners. Five-year-olds. My kids’ age, or thereabouts. And all I could see in my head was Ellie’s kindergarten class last year, all those precious little faces and bodies following behind their teacher like little ducklings in a row, every day after school. And all I could imagine was how terribly frightened and confused those children in Newtown must have been, with the noise and the shouting and the bullets and the palpable taste of panic. And how cripplingly awful it must have been for the teachers and staff as they realized what was happening and tried to keep those children safe. And all I could think about was how Christmas is coming, and Hanukkah is here, and those families all have these huge, raw, gaping holes in them now, that nothing will ever fill, and the holidays can be rough enough when your family is alive, so how will they ever make it through to the new year?
Of course the gun-control arguments quickly escalated on social media everywhere. My libertarian friends and southern cousins were taking a stand for the second amendment; my academic and granola liberal friends were rhetorically asking if we could FINALLY have a conversation about weapons regulation, and everyone was getting passionate, because we all feel so horrible about those babies, and we want to DO something, and we’re afraid. My goodness we are afraid. Afraid it will happen to our kids, in our schools. Afraid some nameless, faceless force will come into our homes and tell us what we can and can’t do to protect our families. Afraid that someone we know might have it in them to snap and go on a killing rampage. Afraid that no matter what we do, it will Just. Keep. Happening.
I get it. As a southern-born, gun-owning*, tree-hugging, Buddhist, liberal mama, I am well acquainted with both the passion and the fear. And what I wish for, with every single fiber of my being, is that we can begin to move beyond it. That somehow we can convert our righteous anger into loving kindness, and our fear into hope. That we can recognize how the roots of this violence are complex and widespread, and the solution has to be, too.
In Buddhism, we are encouraged to practice detachment, and often times this ideal is misunderstood as a kind of emotional distance, a coldness or aloof removal from the ugly intensity of human feelings. But in fact, I think most Buddhists would say that their experience is quite the reverse. The detachment is actually from our own egos, from our foolish attempt to impose our wills and desires on the rest of the world whether the rest of the world likes it or not. And it turns out that when you work on that kind of detachment, you become even more wholly immersed in the fullness of human emotion. Your joy is purer, your sorrow is deeper and your love is more profound. So although I don’t have any answers today, in the face of this overwhelming grief and horror, what I can do is keep practicing my detachment. What I can do is keep trying to get out of my own way, so I have room to be a force for lovingkindness in the world. What I can do is remind myself to forge stronger connections with my communities, even in a time when my instincts might be to put up walls and hide behind them. And, like all of us, I can hug my family a little tighter tonight, and be extra grateful for my manifold blessings as the old year gives way to the new.
(But have no fear – I promise to reclaim my snarkitude in future postings.)
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