Late last Sunday night, in the wake of the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, I held my daughter as she lay sobbing in my arms, overwhelmed at the pervasive sense of wrongness in the world. Usually when she comes to me for comfort, I ramble on and on, trying to ease her mind, but this time, I couldn’t. I simply held her, stroked her hair, let her cry. I did say, “It’s going to be okay,” but she responded, “No, it’s not,” and I had nothing to say to that, because I fear she may be right. That she may walk out the door tomorrow in light of another atrocity, to deal with another conflict, to have to face an uncertain future where any moment not only her view of the world, but perhaps her very world, is shattered in a hail of bullets, or a wall of hatred and bigotry and intolerance. All I could say was, “Right here, right now, it’s going to be okay,” and even though she took comfort in that, it felt so very inadequate.
We live in a world that is so much bigger than it ever was before. These are uniquely blended times, our awareness broadened beyond our own means. Information inundates us, opinions bombard us, voices clamor to be heard in an ever increasing Babel. It’s giddy and fun and empowering, to know when someone opens their mouth a world away, when creations are shared within moments of inception, when the words we speak fall on myriad ears. When the news is fun, flippant, amazing, then it seems we live in the best of times.
But when the news is bad, there is no escape. We scrounge for information, breaking minute by minute, or even if we bypass blaring headlines we must listen to all those voices – not just news outlets, but friends, acquaintances, family members, authorities, experts, politicians, artists, consultants, bleeding hearts, hard noses, hawks, doves, ignoramuses, entertainers – all with opinions, all with something to say, filled with outrage, demanding action, yelling, arguing, weeping, shell shocked.
It’s overwhelming. We want to turn it all off, but we can’t because it’s everywhere; it’s part of what our life has become, this receiving of information. We feel threatened, and because we are still basic creatures at our core, our fight-or-flight instinct triggers but there is nothing tangible to fight against, and nowhere to hide. So we live in fear, fear of the unknown, fear of the unexpected, of the unpredictable, the uncontrollable, the inexplicable.
“Shhhhh…. it’s going to be okay.”
“No, it’s not.”
” You’re right, it’s not. But right here, right now, it’s okay.”
Last year, I posted a Gimbling in the Wabe entitled “Those Perfect Moments“. In it, I wrote:
…I realized I was standing in a perfect moment. A single moment when life, right then, right there, is perfect. A moment when the heart swells because it seems like it simply cannot hold everything it has been given. For just a moment, before everything else rushes back in and reminds us that we have worries and cares, for one sparkling, intimate, isolated moment, life is perfect.
It hit me, then, that perhaps the reason why happiness always seems to be just outside of our grasp, regardless of how hard we pursue it, is simply because our focus is wrong. That life, with all its complexity, cannot sustain unabated happiness for too long, and in the assumption that it should, we get caught up in despair and a sense of futility, concluding instead that we will never be truly happy. Either/or, black/white, have/have not.
Instead, we need to recognize that life is full of perfection – but that it is contained in moments, rather than in hours, days, years, lifetimes. That at any given time, we may find ourselves part of a perfect moment, and it is these moments of gratuitous joy that define our lives, not the things we own or the status we have gained or lost, or never had a chance of at all.
Since then, I have opened myself to recognizing those perfect moments, and they have sustained me. They aren’t constant, cannot be forced and cannot be bidden, but they exist, and are frequent enough to offset the anxieties of a forcibly humble life.
It occurs to me now, when I look at the abundance of depravity and intolerance in the world, whether it be a gunman mowing down 49 people in a nightclub in Orlando, or a presumptive presidential candidate spouting hatred and intolerance, or the rape of an unconscious woman being reduced to “20 minutes of action” – not substantial enough for recrimination – that while yes, we need to be aware of the larger world, we also need to remember that we ourselves live in a tiny smidgen of it.
Our world is large and full of disparate people, which is a wonderful thing. We should be rejoicing in the absolute audacity of that diversity even as we work towards embracing it. Unfortunately , those disenfranchised persons who are threatened by anyone different than themselves, or who cannot accept allowing others to believe differently than what they themselves believe, will always be a danger to all of us.
I refuse to believe, however, that having to endure these radicalized people is a sad inevitability; while I’m not a utopian, I do have hope that someday we as a species will come to terms with our differences. And I believe that we all must be aware, and active, in making the world the type of place we want our children and grandchildren to live in, as daunting of a task as that might seem.
But sometimes, we have to take a step back, at least for a few moments, and refocus not on the world, but on our own little piece of it. We have to disengage from the fear, the despair, the outrage and the feeling of helplessness to, as one local blogger put it, “chill and watch the grass grow.” Just like looking for the perfect moment in life rather than universal fulfillment, we need to remind ourselves that while we are of the world, we are not the world, and fold ourselves into the lovely, precious, mundane things that we love and cherish at arm’s reach, that are there for us day in and day out.
We need believe, even when it seems like the world is an awful place and simply walking out our front door is too much to bear, that right here, right now, in this place, at this moment… everything is going to be okay.
~ Sharon Browning