You wake up, check your phone, and immediately become bombarded with notifications indicating that in the few quiet hours while you slept, something terrible has happened…Again.
You scroll through the news, searching to fill in the gaps of questions that you don’t even want to know the answers to. How many this time? Who did it? What was the motive? How many times this year will this happen? And before you can even absorb and process what had occurred, you see the chilling photos of carnage that make the whole thing real. Too real.
You feel emotional. You feel afraid. You feel overwhelmed. You ask yourself, “Could I have known a victim?” You furiously start reaching out to friends and family in the area that may be afflicted to make sure. And as your stomach churns with heartache, anxiety, disgust, and uncertainy you must still trudge to work. You don’t get time off to decompress. You must carry on like any other day. Because while this is a terrible tragedy, it’s not grounds for mourning or pause…its just another day in America.
You try to move forward. To gather yourself, but you can’t avoid it. You can feel the tension like a fog of somber reality has descended upon every person you pass. Your family, your co-workers, your friends- are all anxious to talk about it. But you dread going through the motions and reliving the details through small talk. You wish they would stop. You scroll again with your phone, trying to disseminate the real news from the onslaught of sensationalized articles. You are moving quickly through the turbulent stages of grief and acceptance, a process that has become all too familiar to you in recent years.
You exhale heavily as you realize the court of public opinion is now in session. You know this routine. Suddenly, the expressions of shock and dismay have turned to polarized assertations of opinions. Why it happened. Who is to blame. How it’s being handled. And the empathy you once observed has turned into a cesspool of arguments from people jumping at the opportunity to make their position heard. Caught up in moments of passion, people have redirected their fear into verbal combat. Accusations. Insensitivity. For a moment you feel tempted to chime in, but you stop yourself. “This is no time for a soapbox,” you remind yourself. Enough of this. And you turn off the phone for a while.
You make it through the day, but barely. Your head is clouded with thoughts of the world around you. The murmuring and white noise of people discussing it in the background. Finally, you head home and realize you are alone with your thoughts for the first time all day. You feel sadness and frustration. How is this the world we live in? How is this the norm? How are we so desensitized to apocalyptic violence that this happening isn’t even surprising anymore? And you wonder how many times must you hear people’s same opinions every time. Their relentless need to make every event about themselves somehow, or to shed perspective on their agenda. When did we become this polarized? Is this devisive culture how all this hatred brewed in the first place? What the fuck is wrong with people?
Now, you’ve gone down the rabbit hole. You start thinking of the large scale implications. Where am I even safe anymore? How can I raise kids in this world? Will it ever get better? And these thoughts and worries compound onto the sadness you already feel until your mind in a flurry of unintelligible emotions and thoughts. “Slow down,” you beg yourself.
You breathe in, digress, and attempt to re-center. You don’t want to be dismissive. You don’t want to downplay this and make this type of thing okay. It’s not okay. But you know you cannot bear this burden over again every couple of weeks. You ask yourself, “How do I cope when the world has lost its mind? Where do we go from here?” You question how you will muster strength and sensibility in a world that seems to have departred from all sense of reason.
And in these moments, you must focus only on the change that you can affect. Will these emotions help? Will this commentary induce progress? And if the answer is no, you must move past it and continue on. This is not the America you hoped for, but it is the America you live in. And in the wake of such loss, you must remind yourself that filling the world with more sadness and fear won’t change what happened, or prevent it from happening again. And adding to the narrative of a divided society can only serve to make it worse.
And as you try to decompress and move away from the issue, you feel a new wave of guilt. How can I do nothing? How can I sit back as this happens in the world? By turning off the TV and declining to talk about it, am I contributing to apathy? The answer to each of these questions is: No. In these moments it’s OKAY to do nothing. To digest privately. To hope and pray for the victims. To donate to a cause if you’re able. But you don’t have to feel obligated to become a party to tragedy. It does not make you weak, or apathetic, or insensitive to continue the trajectory of forward momentum. You do not have to accept this as a norm, in fact…you shouldnt. But in the ways that you cannot affect change, you do not need to feel obligated to burden yourself or to wallow.
Of the good characteristics that still remain in this country, tenacity and resilience rank among the most important. You must remind yourself that evil thrives upon emotions of fear and sadness, and so long as we project them we’re no longer “helping” the problem. These sick few who perpetuate this terror want us to feel afraid. They want us to turn against in each other in the chaos. They want to be the headline news, and the subject of your every conversation for days. We cannot validate this evil by celebretizing them. By allowing life to stop, we are letting them be victorious in their mission.
We must assure ourselves that moving forward in spite of great adversity is actually one of the most positive things that you can do. Never to forget, but to take steps forward to bring light into the world. Make efforts to appreciate the things in life that are still beautiful. Small moments; time with family and friends, personal accomplishments that make you feel whole…these are the bricks upon which we rebuild after tragedy. You cannot allow your life to be paralyzed by the apprehension of the next terrible happening.
There’s no easy way to know how to cope. Especially knowing this will probably happen again. No one is supposed to know how to navigate the world as it is because these are unprecedented times. But it is okay to resume, and to persist. It is okay to feel happy again. It is okay to fill in these gaps of immense loss with hope and laughter. And as cliche as these intangibles all may sound, perhaps your role in it all is to continue living in spite of it.
So shut off the TV and hold your loved ones extra close. Wake up in the morning, and begin again. And know that every beautiful moment you experience, no matter how small, is in spite of the evil minority who wish to take it from us. Your defiance does not have to be militant. It does not have to be controversial or political. Perhaps the strongest and most profound statement you can make it times like this is to look into the face of those who wish to tear apart the good in society and say….”I will endure.”