I’ve been quiet.
That’s likely not a big deal to you, but for those who know me, I am rarely quiet. It’s an aspect of myself that I sometimes judge, that I sometimes embrace, that I sometimes just observe. There are many rooftop shouters and I happen to be one on a lot of occasions. I’ve come to accept that about myself and let it be.
Yet… I find myself quiet in all the ways I normally echo through the halls of my life. This quiet is because I cannot figure out the first word to the next sentence that would make sense of the loss of life in these endless mass shootings.
I have been reading the words of others and watching us collectively attempt that tried-and-true five-part model of coming to terms with grief as offered by Kubler-Ross. The problem is, once we get past that first stage of denial, entering into anger, we have yet another mass killing that brings us back to that denial. We only get to two-step our way through something that requires so much more to navigate.
“What? Another one? How can this be? I blame [fill in the blank]” and we never get to that elusive next step of bargaining then depression then acceptance.
Denial. Anger. Denial. Anger. Repeat.
My first memory of participating in a collective shared grief was when I was 8 and made to attend an elementary school assembly. We were gathered because the Challenger space shuttle exploded shortly after liftoff and people died. I didn’t fully understand this gathering we were doing. This silence they wanted us to sit with made very little sense to me.
My fellow elementary school peers and I tried to sit quietly, but we were fidgeting and coughing, because we had no idea why we had to suddenly be quiet together. I remember looking around and wishing we could talk again. I wasn’t bored, just completely confused by the whole deal and wanting to get back to whatever we would be doing if this hadn’t happened. As I looked around I noticed that the teachers were crying. Then, the slow dawning of the devastation settled on me.
The space shuttle had a teacher on it. The teacher was going to space, literally doing something out of this world, and that teacher died. Wait, could my teacher die? I remember looking for Mrs. Likes, my favorite teacher, seeing her crying and thinking “That teacher was like Mrs. Likes! Mrs. Likes could die!”
And this was the most tragic thing my new-to-this-world brain could imagine. I was so sad and I cried so hard as I imagined my Mrs. Likes blowing up in a space shuttle.
When we see ourselves or those we love in the death what follows is such a devastation to the soul. This life that we have been taught to nurture could just go away. Just like that. And in violent, murders, someone makes it go away.
“What? Another one? But how can this be?”
I’m trans. I’m queer. I love so many people who are trans and who are queer. This makes relating to the Pulse massacre in Orlando all the more real to me. I was able to cast myself as a dancer on that dance floor without even knowing I was doing the casting. Images came to me with no provocation, like laying my body over my wife’s body because there would be no way on earth I would let her be exposed to death without trying every defense within me.
I have loved ones who are police officers. I could cast them very easily into the badges and uniforms in Dallas, imagining their last breath. I have loved ones who have darker skin than mine and they run a greater risk to die violently and prematurely every single day just because of the bias, prejudice and fear our society has endorsed since the start of our country.
Once we see ourselves and our loved ones in the rampant hate, victimization, and debilitating disparities we can never “un-see” it. And we will often do anything we can to stop it.
Denial. Anger. Denial. Anger. Repeat.
The versions of me, the versions of you, the versions of all those we love are the ones that have their pulse taken from them in places that often had served as sanctuary.
Our souls cry out in denial: “No! Not again! No!”
Our souls grapple with the anger that is oh so appropriate for this loss, “I will stop them! They will not harm me!”
Our souls begin to well up with tears as the bargaining begins, “Please…”
We only can utter the single word of bargaining as it is interrupted by yet another shooting, another body crumpling to the floor. We return to the desperate denial chorus “No! Not again! No!”
Then the slow dawning settles on me with an unshakable truth:
That could have been my pulse that slowed and then stopped.
That could have been your pulse that slowed and then stopped.
That could have been the pulse of every single person that we know, every single person we love, that slowed and then stopped.
I’ve been very quiet, stunned into emotional muteness, a seemingly endless moment of silence as I find a new use for my hands that once fidgeted during that assembly thirty years ago. I use those hands now to check my pulse, to feel that life force pumping through my being, to witness the miracle that keeps me breathing and to acknowledge my pulse continues where so many others have ended.
As we go through the dark brokenness that has become the norm, let us never forget how rich, how powerful, how mighty and how unyielding that stubborn flow of life within is in the face of all that attempts to end it. The true grit of the heart keeps on going.
That pulse within you is ancient. That pulse has been giving a rhythm to life in this world since the dawn of time. That pulse is what unites us. That pulse that lives in you speaks to the one that lives in me. The radical act of intentional living in the face of all the destruction is the very thing that steady pulse within has been calling us to all along. And it changes our options, it changes our paths when we invite in the flow of life.
It says Look.
It says Be.
It says Please.
It says Love.
It says Live.