I first wrote this post December 15, 2012, the day after the Sandy Hook Elementary School Massacre. Here we are, two years later, continuing to rack up the tragedies one-by-one. Whether it’s the massacre at the Charlie Hebdo newspaper offices in Paris a few days ago or the three-degrees-of-separation suicide a week ago of a 19 year-old girl, the human race is still very much in peril.
I could write a new post every time a new tragedy occurs, but, why waste my time? All you have to do is replace the words “Sandy Hook Elementary School Massacre” with the name of the current (probably preventable) tragedy.
This post is as pertinent today as it was when I wrote it two years ago. I look forward to the day when I can take it down. But I think it’s going to be a while.
Please read it. And leave a comment, for chrissake. Just so I know you’re out there.
Then, pass it on.
“I felt a great disturbance in The Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened.” Obi-Wan Kenobi, STAR WARS
This time it’s 20 small children and eight adults – including the 20-year-old killer and his own mother.
We Americans, who are by now inured to living with these types of pernicious massacres, found ourselves collectively disturbed at the soul level by the news coming from Sandy Hook Elementary School last Friday.
I wonder: Can we stop right here and learn, finally, from one more vile tragedy? Might we declare, as a nation, that this will be the last time that all of us will ever have to endure the trauma that has forever imprinted the residents and the town of Newtown, Connecticut? Or, will we just keep going? Think about it: What’s the next logical progression in this mutant scale of homicidal devolution? The killing of Babies? Pregnant women?
I believe that The Universe, our Creator, The Force, The Great Spirit, God, Buddha, Allah, The Alpha, The Omega or Nothing-whatever you choose to call the energy that enlivens every sentient being on this planet – provides us with opportunities to evolve at the soul level; then, hopefully, by awakening to our potential for good, we can be of useful service to each other while we’re alive.
I imagine that these 28 souls came together last Friday, under contract to us all, as a nation, and sacrificed their lives in order to wake us up, once and for all, and to say that enough is finally enough.
The United States of America is the most violent nation in the world. This is fact. Our ubiquitous crime and violence, along with the insatiable desire of far too many for more and more weaponry, are only symptoms of our greater societal disease. We are a nation of abject individualists; we are self-centered, instead of other-centered, or collectively-centered. Too many of us suffer from feeling “less than” if we don’t turn out to be “successful” or “famous” or “rich”. Our focus is outward, instead of inward. And it’s destroying us. Individually. And collectively.
We feel profound futility around this pointless annihilation of human life, which seems to be occurring now in stepped-up succession. We ask ourselves, “What can we do about it?”
Here’s a suggestion for something we can all start doing right now- as individuals: start paying attention to the people around you, whether or not you live with them; whether or not you like them; whether or not you agree with their politics or like the color of their skin; whether or not you think you have anything in common with them. There’s something magical and wonderful about noticing people and paying attention to them; for the recipient, it tends to feel a lot like love. I have yet to meet a person who doesn’t respond to love.
There was a disturbance in The Force of 20 year-old Adam Lanza. Someone must have known about it. Maybe even lots of people knew about it. I’ll bet that Adam Lanza felt unheard, unseen, unloved, unimportant. But he sure did get our attention in the end, didn’t he? Why didn’t he get our attention along the way? Was his heinous crime inevitable or was it preventable? Now, we’ll never know. Human beings – left unattended, feeling unloved, unnoticed, alienated, lonely and abused for too long, can easily gravitate towards mutant behavior in order to feel “seen” or indeed, just alive.
We live amongst countless “disturbed” people. They are everywhere. And, they are not just the diagnosed or the undiagnosed mentally ill, or the obvious homeless people living on our streets. They are also our overworked single parents; our burned- out workers of the helping professions; our damaged war veterans; our neigbors who have lost their jobs; those who have lost their health; they are our abused and neglected children who grow up to be adults with no life skills and coping mechanisms. They are you. And they are me. They are all of us. And it’s each of our jobs to start paying closer attention, both to ourselves and to others.
We spend our lives engaged largely in meaningless activity and constant running around, “doing”, as if everything is so damned important. What if we started to think that paying attention to others is as important as all the other things we do on a daily basis? Maybe even more important.
When we take note of our own suffering and allow ourselves to feel it, it allows us to take note of the suffering of others. Each time we do this, we build on our collective force which binds us together on a basic, human level.
Reaching out to other people is easy. Express concern when your family member, friend or co-worker seems troubled and offer an open ear. You don’t have to “fix” anything; just listen. So many people have no one to talk to; no one to listen to them. Look the homeless person in the eye and say hello. One day, that might be you. Drop by the home of your elderly neighbor whose children live out of town. If you suspect that a child is being abused, take action to protect that child.
Something in every American was shot dead last Friday, not just the 28 victims of the Newtown, Connecticut tragedy. And, if we are to honor these 20 children and the eight adults – including the killer – we have to resurrect that part of ourselves that no longer accepts violence as an acceptable part of our culture. This includes the violence of misogyny, racism, homophobia, child abuse; allowing our mentally ill to live and die on our streets; cutting people off in traffic; and, just plain bad manners. All of these, we’ve come to accept as normal. We have to become kinder people and learn to reach out to each other, even if it’s inconvenient or feels uncomfortable.
Try approaching with an open and understanding heart someone whom you might normally judge. “Seek to understand instead of to be understood,” taught St. Francis of Assisi. Just look. And see. And respond in some small way. Paying attention doesn’t require that much energy. And it costs nothing.
How many of us feel invisible, unheard, unnoticed, unimportant, unloved?
The truth is that there is not a single soul amongst us who is not suffering on some level. No one. Our shared suffering can make our collective human experience feel worthwhile; it allows us to connect with each other and to practice loving-kindness, for ourselves and for each other.
This is how we begin to heal ourselves and ultimately, our systemic societal disease, which has reached a terminal status. And, if, as a nation, we don’t respond to the slaughter of our own children, then, truly, who are we as the people of that nation?
Yes, there is a terrible disturbance in The Force. And it’s up to each one of us to do something about it.