This actually started as a comment to my good friend, Hannah’s, latest post (check out her blog, her photographs are beautiful and incredibly interesting), but as I kept typing, I figured I’d just post it here instead of leaving an essay in her comments. Hannah is French. She lives in Paris, although she’s currently in the States. My heart breaks for her, and I am thankful she is safe.
Here’s what I was starting to write to her (and it takes off from there, as you’ll see):
I can feel your pain. My heart hurts in solidarity for you, for Paris, for Beirut, for everyone. I hear what you’re saying, absolutely. I immediately experienced empathy when I heard about Paris. I immediately thought of you. I imagined my city, my home, New York, being attacked again. I took the train down to Times Square later that day for work and felt my chest tighten with anxiety. We could easily have been those victims. I sit outside on balconies eating dinner. I have gone to clubs and concerts. I didn’t hear about the attack on Beirut until later that same day, (which is an issue that should be addressed). But do we or do we not put a filter over our Facebook profile pictures – and which one? Do we not post as much about Paris, but more about Beirut? Why didn’t I hear about Kenyan University where 147 students were massacred back in April? Am I a bad person? How can I put the French flag and the Lebanon flag and the Kenyan flag all on my social media while using non-religious but thoughtful hashtags so everyone knows I am good and mean well? How do we stay politically correct – how can we accurately report war and suffering – what is the right thing to do now against ISIS – what about – if we just – what about – this is wrong – this is right – what about –
I have no fucking idea. So I’ve been relatively staying silent, because for me, at this point, right now, none of this matters. I know there are a lot of complex political issues at stake now, and yes, discussion needs to happen, but we seem to be on the brink of a global war. Everyone is shouting, everyone is in pain. The core truth is that people have died, and I am sad. For all of them.
Pain is pain. No one wins when people try to compare suffering, and it is a futile, misguided effort. When in times of immense suffering, we want our pain justified, our grief validated, and our most natural reactions when our souls are in danger is to inflate the ego, retaliate, and look for someone to blame. We need a Why for our pain. Trust me, I do this all the time. Grief is an incredibly, incredibly isolating and lonely experience, not to mention extremely frightening, to explore the depths of pain in our psyche. It’s natural to lash out and try to find someone or something to cling to, even if we drag them down with us in the process.
It’s also natural that the Western media has reacted so strongly to the Paris attacks over the Beirut attacks. Whether or not that’s right isn’t really for me to say. It just Is. The stories that we most relate to are when the victims most look like us, when what happens is close to home, that all hurts much more. It’s natural and human to have empathy sometimes and just sympathy other times. If we could viscerally feel the pain of every experience outside our own, we would go probably insane and very quickly end it. It’s too much. So we distance, we dehumanize, we point fingers, we blame, we cause more pain, in order to protect ourselves. We do so out of fear, and always have. Because the world is too great, the suffering too immense, the losses are unbearable. We are angry because life is unfair.
And we’re right. It is unfair. It’s incredibly unfair. And it fucking sucks. But it Is.
I laugh now looking at my past blog and journal posts. I always think I have all the answers. I just keep having the same epiphanies over and over again. I realize a new truth, write about it, internalize it, and try to practice more mindful living. Which lasts a few days – a week or so if I really try. Then I go right back to being a human who gets angry and hurts and lashes out and clings and gets jealous and says mean things and has selfish thoughts and rolls her eyes and cries all the time and huffs and is just so OVER IT. Because I’m human. This time last year on my birthday, I wrote a whole post about being an adult. Hah hah! Boy, that lasted long. It’s very humbling, to say the least. But it does help me take myself less seriously, which I am always in need of.
You know, now that I think of it, Life IS kind of like school. Every year, you have the same core subjects with some new ones mixed in, and every year, you advance a level – if you do the work, that is. The material gets harder, more in-depth, more complex. But hopefully, if you work hard, do your homework, and listen in class, you become better equipped to handle such challenges. Sometimes you decide to abruptly switch your majors or transfer to a new school, which can also be so overwhelming and temporarily set you back, but you eventually adjust.
Ooooh, so that was the point of the first 21 years of my life. Now I get it. School’s just a metaphor, you guys!
Right now, I’m basically in “Life Whooping Your Ass 301: You Thought You Knew But You Had No Idea!” and I think I may be in way over my head. But thank god for tutors (aka therapists), amirite?
ANYWAY, point being, I’ve recently enacted an experiment where I put into practice one crucial key to Adulting that I totes forgot for like, my entire life, you guys. Acceptance.
As I’ve stated before, I have a crazy powerful imagination, I have a penchant for fantasies, an idealistic willful heart, and quite a passionate temper. I also tend to phone it in, coast, hide, and procrastinate when I can – basically at heart, I’m lazy. I also cling. Hard. To beliefs, habits, people, and some very longstanding grudges against certain people I feel have hurt me significantly. I do this simply because I can, because it’s easier, and because I’ve been getting away with it for nearly 28 years.
When I’m in pain, when terrible shit happens, when life’s unfair, there’s this persistent little voice in the back of my head that whines, “But WHYYYYYY?!” (Did you also read this in Cartman’s voice? No? Just me?)
God, I hear that voice a lot. But I usually don’t wait to hear the answer.
If I did, I bet my inner Good Mother would stroke my hair and simply say, “Because.”
And when I ask again, “But WHHHYYYYYY!?” She would probably wrap me in her arms, think for a moment, and thoughtfully, sadly reply, “I don’t know.”
So I’m working out my next thesis. I think the next step in this never ending grad school of self-discovery is Acceptance. Even when the answers aren’t clear and there seems to be no reason or logic at all. Because only through acceptance can you then move forward, heal, and let it go. Do I really want to carry my pain of the past around with me my entire life – begrudgingly, angrily, indignant that I’ve been slighted? Or maybe, just maybe, it’s really time to let that painful fire rage so that I can rise from the ashes. Truly embody the Six of Swords and leave behind past pain which has been holding me back from becoming who I need to be.
That doesn’t mean doing so is easy. Nope. This. Is. Super. Fucking. HARD. And so incredibly painful – I can’t even describe the pain. It’s a slow, very painful process and I miss everything so much and the reluctance is so strong. It’s scary to let go. (But you can’t get rid of the Babadook!)
Acceptance doesn’t discount the pain or wipe it clean or encourage apathy. Acceptance accepts the pain for what it is (that’s a weird phrase, huh), acknowledges the hurt, and eventually, hopefully, then lets the pain move through us, rather than take over us. Yes, this happened. Yes, it was unfair. I was hurt. I still hurt. It has affected me. But it happened. This is part of my story.
Because there is Life After Death. And if we’re lucky, we’re reborn a thousand times. The messages of peace and love and understanding that I’ve seen in the aftermath of these attacks are so beautiful and uplifting. It’s time to heal, as a planet, as humans, as humanity. We need to take care of each other. I see it in the strength of the Syrian refugees, the families of victims of senseless violence, the survivors of violent attacks and immense trauma. They persevere. They still have hope. They keep living. Because this is Life. And it Is.
I’ll leave you with this amazing little video. Sending you love.