Photo credit: Image by S. Hermann & F. Richter from Pixabay
When world events penetrate closed wounds
For the past number of months I’ve been barreling through things. But not in a frenetic, mindless way. After twelve years of immobilizing obstacles, it seems paths forward are finally opening up in my life.
And so I am cognizant. Cognizant not to squander this perceived chance. Cognizant that I’m no more deserving of getting to move forward than is anyone else who may be randomly sidelined by life not playing nice. Cognizant that not having children in no way guarantees the opportunity to be able to do whatever else you may want to do with your life. These truths are dangling like innocent mobiles on the ceiling of my awareness – harmless but undeniably THERE.
Emerging from this decade plus of what often felt like a grinding halt, I’m not willing to pause for much these days. It’s like the great Tom Petty once sang – “I put the peddle down – to make some time.”
There feels to be an excess of deep disturbances in the world at the moment – I bring my hand to my chest on a daily basis at least over heartbreak, acknowledgement and empathy for someone or something somewhere. I also still need to accommodate my immature autonomic nerve cells, though mercifully less than before. And yet, I know I can and more so feel I MUST ride this jagged and precarious wave of potential formation in my life. Regardless to an extent of what’s going on around me.
Tuesday, May 24th was different. The Uvalde, Texas school massacre stopped me in my tracks.
I felt sick, that way you feel when you have no choice but to let the unfathomable begin to land in your body. I assumed my Tom Petty streak would continue, but on Wednesday shell shock turned to grief as tears unleashed. Tears over images of pure bright smiles and precious faces. I couldn’t even hold it during a trip to the nail salon – tears streamed down my face as I sat in the pedicure chair. I took a mental health day for the rest of the day as I felt engulfed both physically and otherwise.
Thursday was similar – minimal function and instant tears – when driving and doing other daily activities. At what seemed like the drop of a hat, I had been rendered nakedly porous, once again at the beck and call of grief’s thumping surf. Lured back to that place where your wishes and trajectory are not really your own but rather are tossed to the side by something deeper and relentlessly insistent. I translated my current state into a years long treck. My internal exclamation – “How does anyone EVER survive this?”
“Well YOU did, genius” I aptly pointed out to myself. I then spent a moment agape, having stumbled upon a new found compassion and amazement for my own experiences.
It’s not that I wasn’t aware of the realities of my instantaneous grief mini cycle. I was aware that I could turn off my tv and other news feeds, in short that I could walk away to a great extent and that within a few days I’d probably regain some semblance of equilibrium (which I did). I vaguely remember Brenee Brown citing this as an unearned privilege – the privilege of getting to walk away (I might not have that quite accurate, so anyone with Brenee research more on the front of your radar, feel free to chime in). Though it’s muddy in my mind, that point always resonated with me. I was aware that I wasn’t the one loosing my children – at least not this time. And I was aware that the losses of my children to infertility didn’t render me seeing anything I could never unsee, and that my children never had to suffer. The two things I’ve been profoundly grateful for from day one of my losses.
Mindful of my insignificant place in the equation, I began to wonder about the all encompassing impact this was having on me. There was of course the externally obvious – the seeming impossibility of wrapping myself around the fact that yes, this is my country.
A country where delusion is given more weight than reality and where the completely unnecessary “freedom” to have an assault weapon has been made a greater priority than our country’s children getting to live.
A country where basic facts – such as the fact that countries where this happens much less frequently (read: EVERY OTHER COUNTRY IN THE ENTIRE WORLD) do not have lower incidences of mental illness, just more sane and reasonable access to guns – are cast aside the second they don’t accommodate someone’s political identity.
I live in a country where children of all ages need to worry about getting shot in school. SCHOOL. And where aunts, uncles, parents and any other humans who love these children have to worry about them getting shot in school. AND where that’s but a mere addition to an epidemic of mass shootings that take a myriad of other precious lives.
None of the above things are the building blocks of a civil, productive society. They are blatant erosions of it. My outlook for the future of the United States of America is nothing short of gloomy.
Now anyone who has been reading me for awhile knows I (and I’m sure many of you) do not have a whole lot of bandwidth to sympathize with the predictable day to day woes of people who chose to and then got to be parents. Even though we are capable of acknowledging these things we childless folks do have to first and foremost take care of ourselves in a world that doesn’t take care of or even acknowledge us. So if I’m outraged – OUTRAGED – over something parents are being forced to experience, you know it’s bad with a capital B.
So there’s that. But there’s something more, a whole layer of things acutely personal that were unearthed from my seemingly settled core.
The faces of these children who were slain viciously and entirely unnecessarily look very much like how I pictured my own children. My El Salvadoran husband is quite indigenous looking, so I always pictured our children would look more like him than me.
But I never got to know what my children would have looked like (among many many other things) so I don’t have the convenient delineation that parents of living children get to have of who my children are and aren’t. In other words, I don’t have the black and white knowledge of “that is my child”/“that isn’t my child”. So it’s as if all of these kids are my children in a way. And that’s been quite a bit of pain to sit in.
There is also the inevitable overlap – though people wouldn’t tend to think so given the obvious differences, my lived experience and the lived experiences of many childless folks contains quite a bit of relatable context:
- I recognize the lived experience of having something unjustly taken from you, and I immediately recognize that which falls into the category of “no human should EVER have to….”.
- I recognize the lived experience of having your reality as you know it stripped from you as the result of just innocently going about your life.
- And the lived experience of assumed milestones snatched from your existence, of futures gone missing and of the pervasive sadness that generates.
- And of the inevitable crippling effects this will have on those who survived and the intense internal disregulation, likely years long that is yet to come for victims of all ages.
And those desperate howls from parents outside the school begging, pleading with officers to let them charge into the school and get their children? That state where literally every cell in your body becomes a magnate to save/rescue/help/get your child to be born or whatever the case may be…..but yet you are somehow and unbelievably rendered helpless to actually do anything? That is torture. Pure agony at its finest. I have no idea on many levels what someone who finds themself in school shooting hell goes through. But when it comes to my children I am all too acquainted with that level of powerlessness.
In the days following I heard a Columbine survivor iterate what was, not at all surprisingly, an initially wayward and troubled path forward from surviving that shooting. Going off to college and having to swim in a sea of peers who just didn’t get it traumatized her further. She was, later on down the road, able to recalibrate and acquire some healing in part due to finding people with similar experiences. She too knew the impediment to healing that is being held to expectations set by the privilege of those who have randomly gotten to remain untouched. I’m comfortable to say that through a very different experience, I have lived exactly that.
One news anchor who has children said that she just couldn’t imagine what people who lost children are going through. “You know, she’s right” I thought. If you have living, healthy and especially easily conceived children, unless you have some other related life experience you likely may not have the context or capacity with which to imagine. And that’s the difference. Because while someone with my lived experience on many levels has NO IDEA what that’s like, on some levels we actually CAN imagine. Which is more than enough to knock anyone off the rails for a few days anyway.
Not to mention this is all compounded by living in a culture that assumes people without children to be less affected by these things if at all. People like me are presumed to have less emotional depth, a more remedial understanding of and a shallow connection to life in general. Being devalued and excluded from the human conversation definitely exacerbated my already vulnerable state.
I’m going to bluntly sign off now. I have no useful insight on the future at the moment, no meaning whatsoever to rudely blanket over this tragedy. An occurrence such as this should be the beginning of the end of this largely preventable horror, and yet it hasn’t been in this country. So I leave abruptly to highlight the sick open endedness facing us now……..