It’s raining outside in Portland today—it’s supposed to rain a little every day for at least the next two weeks—and on my bike ride downtown to this coffee shop with its big wooden tables, I couldn’t decide if the rain felt like tears or like the sprinkled drops of a baptism. Are the cosmos weeping, unable able to comprehend what we’ve done to each other and what we’ve done to this big, blue, beautiful planet? Or is that rain a cold, jarring symbol of grace, and each rotation of my bike wheels a cry of repentance—an ache for comfort when all I feel is numbness?
And if you are riding on a bicycle
or a skateboard, in a wheelchair, each revolution
of the wheels a prayer as the earth revolves:
less harm, less harm, less harm.*
And here is this big, gaping, white space of an empty word processor, and there are my thoughts, both floating in the air above my head and grounded—gutted, stuck, trampled—firmly in my chest and in my torso, and I don’t know what to say.
Yesterday was a hard day; yesterday was the one that finally broke me, I think. A normal Wednesday, returning from a meeting in the conference room upstairs, a brief scroll through Facebook before jumping back into my work of the afternoon. And there it is: “San Bernadino.” Hmm? Click. “Mass shooting.” Click. “14 dead.” Just another Wednesday in America, and I sighed aloud, needing to sit with the news but unable to physically contain the rage, the sadness, the exhaustion that was rising in me, starting somewhere at the pit of my stomach and inching upward into my throat. Nausea. Choking. Another Wednesday in America. I made a comment out loud about what had happened—was still happening—in California, and two coworkers responded, one with a “I know, crazy right?” and another with a look of deep, aching sadness, just her eyes visible over her cubicle wall. I sat there, staring at the wall, for what could have been thirty seconds and equally could have been thirty minutes, I’m not sure. I felt my old friends—tears—well up in my eyes and then, yup, there it is—the first spillover, the first tear. I was crying at work, I was so hurt by this new, yet entirely old THING, and yet the entire office’s chatter continued as if nothing had happened. And then I realized that as numb as I felt, it was a different kind of numb. The scary “numb” is the other kind—the desensitization kind.
Yesterday was dark; the night felt dark, and I felt helpless. I’ve never understood what “despair” can actually mean until I was sitting on my bedroom floor, staring at the wall, feeling it: totally, completely, and utterly. I tried to distract myself, but none of that felt like it mattered. Despair and rage teased each other in an odd dance all evening. I had a sense that we’re all doomed—that mathematically ,it’s going to be me or a loved one at one point. I’m a 23-year-old growing up in a nation that apparently was built on the principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and yet there I sat, on a Wednesday night, paralyzed to go to work or into a public place the next day. Even now, sitting here in the coffee shop, my stomach is queasy. This is what living in a terrorized state actually looks and feels like. People who think that their right to having an assault weapon in their home is more important than my right to not get shot have led to a situation where regular citizens—living in the country that people actually dream of coming to for a better life—now live daily lives in a least some level of fear. Comfort and security are no longer an absolute option as an American resident.
I have never felt as utterly, totally hopeless and helpless as I felt last night—as I still feel, honestly. I had this overwhelming sense of being held hostage by our lawmakers—of being held hostage by our lawmakers. As a woman who appreciates having a body that is not a legislative discussion and as a human who appreciates living life without constant fear of that life ending tragically, I feel like I am screaming and no one is listening, like I am screaming at the top of my lungs, a raw, primal sort of shriek, and that it is met with a blocked ear from the halls of Congress, as most lawmakers continue to pat themselves on the backs for being white and for having penises.
It keeps feeling like we’ve come to a breaking point, like this one will be the one. And it’s not. It never is. It wasn’t when kindergartners were gunned down in their classrooms at Christmastime. It wasn’t when nine black people in bible study were gunned down in their church by someone whom they had kindly welcomed into their midst that night. It isn’t. It wasn’t. It never is. One level of last night’s despair was an overwhelming sense that I need to get out of this country, that I just need to leave if I ever want to live a peaceful, safe life. This country that has represented so much for so many feels toxic; I feel I will die if I stay here. I have a panicked sense of needing to leave.
Despair. Hopelessness. Helplessness. From the New York Times:
There will be post-mortems and an official search for a “motive” for this latest gun atrocity, as if something explicable had happened. The ultimate question grows with each new scene of carnage: Are these atrocities truly beyond the power of government and its politicians to stop? That tragically has been the case as political leaders offer little more than platitudes after each shootout, while the nation is left to numbly anticipate the next killing spree.
Numbness. What will it take? Our public spaces are our most cherished, our most important, as human beings seeking community, and yet they are where bullet continually meets flesh, where human lives are stopped short because of the gritty, physical science of metal striking and ripping open artery. Why do people not understand the physicality of it all? 14 lives gone is 14 worlds destroyed.
For the first time in my life, I took a mental health day today—and I didn’t ever understand what that was until I was writing the email explaining it to my boss yesterday. The thought of sitting at a computer and doing work—work that I love and that I know is important—felt utterly impossible. I needed to grieve. I really am grieving today, in my own way. I don’t quite know for what—for the victims, for the world. For us. A mantra ran through my mind last night, over and over and over, “Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.” I’m grieving in my own way—by being quiet, by letting myself feel hurt, by creating space for this—whatever “this” is. I have this desperate sense of wanting to host some sort of Jewish grieving ritual, as if I know anything about that. But there it is.
I can’t turn to platitudes right now, of any inkling of hope or goodness or love. Sending prayers is bullshit. Sending “good vibes” is even more bullshit. We need a revolution. Or something. Until then, we’re all just here, sitting, waiting, numb but not numb enough to not be scared out of our minds. Another Wednesday in America.
*from the amazing poem “Pray for Peace” by Ellen Bass: http://www.ellenbass.com/books/the-human-line/pray-for-peace/