Each time there’s another mass-shooting in the U.S. I feel shaken to my core. Grief, outrage, confusion. Old wounds from past shootings ripped open. Questions. Demands. Anger. Even though I’m far-removed from the incident I feel the ripple-effect: disbelief and then horror in the words, Active Shooter. I react in a two-step: “Oh God, another one??”and then, “I wonder what this guy’s complaint (against the world and all of us in it) was?” Each mass-killing reveals so much urgent, negative emotion that finds release only through hurting others; distracting us all, in the moment, from every other kind of personal pain we’re all living through.
I want to ask the same question of each shooter: “What makes your fears so unique and overwhelming that you’re driven to punish other people in the most horrific and everlasting way?”
Over the course of my life I’ve known overwhelming fear. As I got older and more acquainted with my family-history I learned that Fear is pretty much in my family’s DNA. In various relatives, it manifested as extreme anger, violence, alcoholism, suicide. My great-grandfather on my father’s side even murdered a man (he was blind-drunk and in a full-on rage). So, yeah: fear has been one of my lifelong issues to work through.
But, as wobbly as I was at certain times in my life – every decade in adulthood tested my strength – I never wanted to hurt others. Which is not to say that my words and actions never caused pain; I know they did sometimes. But my intention was to protect myself from being hurt, not to deliberately bring misery to someone else.
In the same way that rough work makes calluses on our hands, my heart grew tough. In my twenties, especially, I pretended to be indifferent. Even though I was anything but, and pretty terrified of getting my life wrong.
The trouble with “emotional calluses” is that they tend to get thicker over time. We grow exhausted by feeling afraid. We lose the ability to trust others and anything beyond our immediate circumstances. Living life inside a protective shell starts to feel normal.
I became a master (mistress!) at keeping my deepest feelings hidden – even during the worst moments of my life. In a very remote sense, I can relate to people who suddenly ‘snap’ under the influence of negative emotion. In Western society, we have a long way to go, to make the healthy expression of feelings the norm. We’re not just a culture of guns, but of pent-up emotions that have nowhere to go.
Which explains why we use celebrities and Influencers on social media as outlets to channel our own feelings. Publicly-shared news of a recent miscarriage, divorce and attempted suicide (different people, different situations) feels like pressure-valves we can all use. Why else would I read these stories and feel the tears welling-up instantly? I don’t even know these people, but I know my own life well enough. I know emotional trauma.
Still, what I see on SM is obviously curated and choreographed. I may be moved to tears. At the same time, I notice that an Influencer’s ride through trauma looks pretty glamorous. And whatever they might be going through pales against news of one more mass-shooting.
The image and evolving backstory of the most recent murderer is raw, un-edited and human. It touches me more deeply than any glossy pic of a grieving celebrity. It sparks more sadness, more empathy and more connection in my heart to those who are extremely isolated in their misery. No way can I comprehend such murderous rage; but I do understand how and why many of us feel so alone in our struggles. Why self-love is so hard. Why depression is so common.
Today, when I’m out an about with real people, I’m going to stay present in my belief in our Connectedness. I’m going to speak it, and act it, and hope for the best. One day at a time.
Excellent resource: Healing the pain body, Eckhart Tolle interviewed by Oprah Winfrey: https://youtu.be/Fzj7R9IB48s