The Most Important Question in the Aftermath
By Beth Berry
This article has been reposted from my blog, Revolution from Home.
I thought about not writing this -- about giving it more time, having our holiday and simply honoring the now-resting and their broken families in silent prayers and tear-filled gazes upon my babies. Tragedy such as Friday’s is hardly touched by mere words; even less is the suffering left in its wake.
But while my heart remains heavy and selfishly prefers to put it off, my conscience won’t allow me the luxury. Much like digging bodies from a mud-slicked mountain or scouting for survivors amidst the rubble of ruins, there is crucial work to be done in the moments following disaster that is best undertaken by those of us whose hearts -- though aching -- are still in one piece. In this case, the work is not so much physical as internal, though it is no less important in the healing process of a shaken nation, the honoring of the families intimately affected and the assurance that we now move forward with intention and clarity.
Everywhere I turn, there is talk of gun control and of mental health and of the disfunction inherent to each as systems and institutions. I hear automatic weapon sales are on the rise. I’ve read impassioned pleas from mothers raising children they fear are capable of acts similar to Adam’s, yet whose choices for treating their babies range from nonexistent to ineffective to cruelly unjust.
There are those who angrily blame NRA lobbyists for Friday's nightmare. Meanwhile, terrified parents propose armed gunmen in elementary schools nationwide. Some conservative faith communities even suggest that we have called such a fate down upon ourselves by stirring a vindictive god who is merely expressing his love with a ruler-to-the-wrist reminder that He belongs in schools.
I’ve got my own opinions about each of these subjects, but they hardly matter right now. Personal agendas and heated opinions border on dangerous this early in the aftermath. Kneejerk reactions are the stuff of wars -- at best serving to divide us -- and hardly ever make for sound policy reform.
What then? What are we to do, as even the most cynical among us seem to stand in solidarity, stating in no uncertain terms that something must be done.
I agree wholeheartedly. Our healthcare system is in need of a total overhaul, the desensitization towards violence among our youth is not helping anything and the fact that the sale of guns is less regulated than say, bread baked in your kitchen speaks of a nation suffering from mislead and confused prioritization. (Oops, how'd those opinions sneak in?)
But my intuition tells me that before we take one more step down the road to reform and recovery, we must each ask ourselves this simple question:
Do I choose to root my reactions in love or in fear?
Fear gives rise to panic, rage, anger, resentment, hatred, worry, cynicism, judgement and selfishness.
Love births kindness, generosity, peace, compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, empathy and understanding.
Both provide fuel for action, each begets more of the same and no one gets to make the choice for you.
It’s easier said than done, of course -- choosing the latter under any circumstance, much less the mass murder of young children and their teachers. For those of you understandably struggling with any number of fear’s manifestations and needing a nudge back to your truer self, I’ve created a small list of places to focus your attention while you tend the rawest of your wounds, asess your fears and eventually embody the capacity to react based on love and with thoughtful intention.
(Oh, and if you are raging, feel free not to act. You will be contributing more good than you know by choosing first to do no harm.)
Five Things We Can Do In the Meantime:
- Identify and honor our fear-based reactions. List them, list the reasons for them, list the history for the reasons for them. Once you've named your fears one by one, pause for a moment to honor them for bringing you this far. If you feel anything, even fury or hatred, more often than not it's because you care, and this can be easier to redirect than emotions gone numb with indifference. Through this acknowledgment you can begin to decide whether your fear-based reactions serve you (and thus, humanity) or whether you might prefer to root your emotions elsewhere. (I recommend the works of Byron Katie and Wayne Dyer for delving deeper into this process.)
- Allow for many ways of mourning. My eldest daughter turns 18 this week. She was the first to tell me about what had happened Friday morning and her reactions were quite different than mine. After giving it some thought I realized what a beautiful thing this truly is. If we all reacted to such tragedy with the sensitivity and affectedness of a mother, we'd be missing some key elements in the restorative process. Her first thought was to quickly tackle gun laws, while I've been too preoccupied feeling for those fellow mothers of five-year-olds to give the guns much thought just yet. We don't disagree on this matter, but we draw from different experiences and as long as we keep fear out of the equation, our views can be seen as complimentary. (Even if they aren't, love's manifestations are a whole lot easier to rub up against.)
- Acknowledge each other's importance in the process. There are those who cry and those who make soup for those who cry. There are those who petition and those who make love to those who petition. There are some of us who wake in the middle of the night and pour our hearts out through our pencils and others who remind us to sleep lest we be short with our own kids come morning. We need each other. Every rendition of our fearless selves is necessary in order that we might all be at our best while we tackle each single task before us.
- Rebuild one another’s faith in humanity. Right now, our country as a whole is just a little bit softer. Though fear resists this vulnerability (and stockpiles guns), it's actually an opportune time for those of us who choose love to connect on a deeper level and exemplify goodness. This is especially important when it comes to our children. Play with kids and make sure they know through your actions that this world is a safe and beautiful place. Tuck them in at night with stories that assure them that good conquers evil. Look people in the eye and remind one another that love is stronger than fear. Pick up the tab of the person looking downtrodden and know that you are counteracting violence by doing so. Double your recipe and take dinner to a cynical neighbor because you have it in you. Amp up the kindness factor, put your individual strengths into action and notice how easy it really is to spread light.
- Focus on what we have in common. Children are a uniting force if ever there was one. My earnest hope is that during these hazy times, we will honor the lives of all children, whether they live in our homes or solely in our hearts by recognizing them as the ultimate expression and teachers of pure love.
"The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word 'crisis.' One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger - but recognize the opportunity." - John F. Kennedy
About Beth Berry
Beth Berry is a writer, mother of four daughters and born idealist living the real life. When she's not orchestrating the household, she can be found in one of several precarious yoga poses, wandering indigenous Mayan food markets, or holed up in a sunny southern Mexican cafe with her laptop, a shade grown dark roast and a contemplative look on her face. Having lived against the grain as a baby-slinging, toddler-nursing, secondhand-shopping, wanna-be farmer for 17 years, she and her family decided to ditch the rat race for a taste of life abroad. Now, in addition to challenging conventional wisdom, she writes about her life-changing experiences working among women in extreme poverty and oppression. Keep up with her musings and adventures in imperfection at www.revolutionfromhome.com.