Using love to battle tragedy
The news has been weighed down with a particular dose of tragedy in recent weeks between the continued occurrence of school shootings, the loss of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain to suicide, and the continued disclosures of sexual misconduct. When something horrible is reported on the news most of us experience a visceral reaction- disgust, horror, deep sadness. We feel it in a knotted stomach, an increased heart rate, heaviness in the chest.
Often we respond to this experience with an immediate need to react- “we have to do something about this” (action), “if they would have asked for help this wouldn’t have happened” (judgment), “At least things like that don’t happen in my community” (denial). People post all over social media with anonymous pointed fingers, inspiring reaction from most others and occasional “likes” from those who identify with their opinion. People read articles (like this one) and either agree or disagree and experience another visceral response to each exposure to layers upon layers of digital content that dissects a singular experience ad nauseum. And we all continue to look at our phones for the answer to the ultimate question- “what in the hell is happening right now?” (full disclosure- the answer probably isn't on your phone).
Let me be clear that I am not here to present an answer to this question. Quite honestly, I have chosen not to dive into the clinical research I would normally dive in to in order to understand what is happening right now. I have another task at hand.
I have decided to pause my reactivity. I've decided instead to notice my feelings when I hear about another suicide, another school shooting, another sexual assault, or another racial conflict and to pay attention to where these feelings reside in my body. To leave room for them, and the weight that comes with them. To leave a seat at the table for sadness, confusion, and reserve a special spot for hope. Hope always shows up when invited.
I have decided to notice the realm in which I reside, my neighborhood, my gym, my office building, the coffee shop on the corner, and the humans who share that space with me.
I have decided to make eye contact with these humans, to notice them, to let authenticity show itself in my interactions, even if that authenticity is not a flawless presentation of composure. I want to see them and hope that they know that they are seen and worth seeing.
I have decided to leave room for all the nuances of human experience. Loss, dark nights of the soul, disconnection, delight, peak experience, indifference, disconnection, average, lovely, ambivalent, quiet, chaotic.
I am hoping deeply that leaving some room for these things- holding space, as we refer to it in the therapy world- will allow others to know that they are welcome as they are, wherever they are in their humanity. They do not have to be alone in their current state, especially a dark night of the soul, when being alive sounds like far too much effort.
I am not proposing that we all sit back and let tragedy happen. I am not proposing that I can fix the tragedy either. I’m not sure I have shoulders wide enough to carry that kind of burden. I do have shoulders wide enough to assist in carrying the load of those close to me though. I have shoulders wide enough to help an elderly neighbor carry in groceries, shoulders wide enough to love a mom-friend who feels like she screwed up (don’t we all feel like that?), shoulders wide enough to bring enough snacks to the park for any other hungry kids, shoulders wide enough to reach out to someone when my gut keeps nagging me about them (“man, I haven’t heard from her in a while…”), shoulders wide enough to bring cookies and kindness over to the woman I see crying through her living room window from time to time as I walk past her home.
I cannot fix the weight of tragedy I think most of us are feeling right now, nor can you. Each of us though, if we notice the tiny spark of bravery inside of us, has the power to place more love into the world. No one needs us to have shoulders wide enough to save the world- only shoulders wide enough to touch the shoulder of the person next to you.
I encourage you today to take these steps:
-Notice the feelings that arise for you when you hear tragic news
-Leave space for those feelings and acknowledge them
-Take a break from technology and plug in to the world around you
-Engage in meaningful connection in your world
-Let those around you know that you see them and you are there with them
-Use your power to put love and kindness into the world
If you or someone you know are in the midst of a dark night of the soul (most of us have experienced them), please tell someone. If you do not have what it takes to tell someone, I hope someone sees you and holds on tightly to you when you don’t have what it takes to hold on tightly to yourself. Ask for help, call a friend, call a therapist, call the National Suicide Hotline (1-800-273-8255), go to the hospital if you can’t keep yourself safe. Search yourself for the faintest spark of bravery and use it.
Sending you loving kindness,
Sarahlin Smith, LMSW, LCSW
*The above content does not constitute therapeutic recommendations and is the opinion of the author.