What if grief were the goal? What if unbridled, consummate, body-wracking grief were the only decision to make, the only cross to bear for the next week? Month? Year? Lifetime? What if we collectively acknowledged our profound sorrow over Orlando without letting political rhetoric and gerrymandering of emotions take over for a minute, a second even.
I think one of the more challenging aspects of a large national trauma that is rarely, if ever, acknowledged, is the way such an event taps into our deeper grief, personal and collective – a sudden, subconscious plunge into dark and murky, and yes painful, waters. The grief we’ve accumulated from childhood traumas like abuse and abandonment, built upon with destructive relationships, and sustained by playing witness to numerous other traumas both large and small over a lifetime, all resides in the infinite cutaneous crevices, along the receding hairlines, and between the calloused fingers and toes of every.single.person. Much of the time, this grief goes unnoticed. It’s masked by the tappity-tap of cell phone buttons, the clink of wine glasses, and the popping of pill bottles.
This is not to say that we should eschew our handy and ubiquitous coping mechanisms for subduing intense feelings of grief and pain, for how else would we effectively move through our days, preparing meals and completing homework and work tasks with focus and diligence? But there must also be a place for grief and grief alone.
I have a friend who works as a librarian in a public elementary school in Brooklyn, who has taken it upon herself to quietly and unassumingly impart mindfulness techniques to her students, their parents, faculty, and staff, and in the process, has gained some notoriety for her work. And in my humble opinion, she is doing more to both combat terrorism, and certainly to permit grief, than anyone on the grander political stage. Because denying grief is, not surprisingly, where dis-ease and instability start, a chaotic state that leads to mental illness, self-destructive behaviors, and yes, even mass murders.
It comes full circle then. In mourning our personal and national tragedies, we learn to address and disarm the root causes of future destruction and devastation. Watching the Tony Awards this past weekend, I was reminded of what can happen when we acknowledge our scarred histories and move forward from that enlightened state, instead of from a place of circuitous speech and blame and hate. From Lin-Manuel Miranda’s now famous acceptance speech for his award for ‘Best Score’ for Hamilton:
When senseless acts of tragedy remind us
That nothing here is promised, not one day.
This show is proof that history remembers
We lived through times when hate and fear seemed stronger;
We rise and fall and light from dying embers, remembrances that hope and love last longer
And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside.