LIKE MANY of you this week, I’m still reeling with emotions from the massacre at Pulse nightclub in Orlando.
I didn’t know any of those killed, but I’ve been incapacitated with grief for the loss of 50 beautiful lives shredded in minutes. For their families who at this writing are still identifying the bodies. For the survivors whose sanity and sense of peace will be skewed by the trauma forever.
My heart aches for my LGBTQA siblings who shouldn’t have to fear for their lives when they go out dancing. For my Muslim friends struggling with the rising tide of hostility and hatred. For all of those for whom this horror will curtail their self-expression, their dreams, their joie de vivre.
I’m saddened and frustrated by the politicization of this tragedy, as if safety and security could be the sacred domain of one party or another. I’m a terrible debater; I don’t see two sides, just one country fractured into millions of voices, so many speaking from pain and fear. I would so much rather talk about what brings us together than what tears us asunder.
I’m too dispirited to talk about the killer and whatever psychotic cocktail of radicalized propaganda and personal insecurity added up this act of brutality. I don’t care what kind of weapon did the killing and whether it was bought legally. Please don’t try to engage me in a conversation about the difference between an assault rifle and a semi-automatic weapon. Trading cold facts won’t heal the heartbreak.
Not that I’m above ad hominem insults. In the harrowing first minutes after the news broke, I showed my ass with some immature name-calling in a comments section, a misplaced reaction spurred by blind anger.
Anger. Anger. Anger.
So many of us are so angry. About the injustice we see in the systems supposed to make things better. About the helplessness we feel to make change. At the other candidate, the other news channel, the other side. At each other.
The Dalai Lama gentle advises that “we cannot overcome anger and hatred simply by suppressing them,” that we must “actively cultivate the antidotes to hatred: Patience and tolerance."
Yet not all of us were born bodhisattvas. Our cultivations and meditations don’t always take. We hold on to our anger like a flotation device, because we know that if we uncurl our fingers from it and let it go, we might be sucked down into the yawning black abyss of despair: That concrete shoe from where all hope is lost and no change can come. Where the seeds of terror sprout. Where hatred grows. Despair tempts us in these times.
Before we saw the egregious horror in Orlando, the weekend was already shaping up to be an emotional storm, with the political rage out West and the murder of 23 year-old singer Christina Grimmie just a few miles away from Pulse.
There is the footage of a 13 year-old being dragged through a Family Dollar by an attacker in broad daylight and the continuous stream of refugees in Europe.
On Friday, I shut down my computer thinking if I see one more photo of that shitty little swim rapist, I’m gonna throw this monitor through the window.
Closer to home, we mourned the senseless death of cyclist Judy Grossman when she was run over by a dump truck in the last miles of Bike Ride Across Georgia. We had murderous mayhem at the Savannah Mall and more hideous hotels replicating downtown like fire ant beds. (It’s definitely not helping that summer’s swamp cloak of humidity has returned to ensure that every trip outdoors is accompanied with the sensation of being strangled by a wet diaper.)
For those sensitive souls who lead with their hearts, it might add up to an unnamed feeling that life might be too frightening and too fragile to be lived freely. It’s a tsunami of despondency that no amount of scrolling through baby sloth pictures can touch.
And that’s exactly the feeling we mustn’t let subsume us.
“When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won,” Mahatma Gandhi once counseled. “There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it—always.”
What strikes me most about this wisdom is that it neutralizes whatever polarized perspectives are feeding our emotions. It proves that if we’re truly for love, then we’re all speaking from the same place. Even if it requires a long view and a big heart to admit it.
Still. It cannot take back the insults or unshoot the bullets. It cannot bring back the dead.
But it can console us as we move forward, shakily, from this awful, awful moment.
It can bring emotional refuge from the confusion and conflict.
It can guard our hope as we keep living, armed with our patience and our tolerance, with hearts so full of love there is no room for anything else.