When tragedy strikes, we retreat to silence. When tragedy strikes, we speak more plainly. Tragedy struck our nation in recent days. It isn’t the first time; more tragic still, most of us fear it won’t be the last.
Let us insist on silence only if it feels right; otherwise, let us speak openly now, about what we say, how we say it, what we do, how we do it.
With empathy. With respect. Listening, as well as speaking up.
What has this to do with the events of last week? Perhaps nothing. Perhaps everything.
We do not always tell those we love that we love them. We say the words too easily and too often to others, though we do not mean them. And we hold back on saying them at times when they could make all the difference in the world.
With my children I use the word love and mean it. I do not believe our sons and daughters can be loved too deeply, or our sentiments expressed too frequently – realizing we must be attentive to place and time, and equally to their reception of the words.
In the midst of conversation last night with a male friend, last week’s heartbreaking violence in Newtown, Connecticut slammed into me again. I could not speak. He turned from the stove where he was chopping vegetables. He looked at me in surprise, as I fought to regain control of my emotions. Then he realized where my thoughts were and said: “You feel sorrow. I feel anger.”
As I considered that response, I appreciated his anger; anger that we don’t have the treatment options we need for our mentally ill; anger that our country doesn’t better control the guns.
You may tell me we are an angry country as it is – angry over lost jobs, angry over troubled kids, angry as we divorce and attempt to put our lives together again; angry that adulthood does not resemble the American Dream.
But anger can be mobilizing; anger can fuel action; anger can direct us to make positive changes – if channeled in positive ways, of course.
With vision, we can accomplish even more. And that leads me to something I caught on Facebook last night. It was an image and words that were making the rounds – with the sort of catchy phrase we like to skim and share. It was well-intentioned, but my response was swift and angry.
I don’t remember what was written verbatim, but it went something like “Love one another. We have only today.”
I may agree with the first part, and I understand the second part. But it is wrong. It is a platitude, a non-response; it is surrender to despair and powerlessness and lack of accountability, as if to say there is nothing we can do today to create tomorrow.
Sure, we have today, but we also have yesterday and everything we learn from it. We have tomorrow because we are human beings and we visualize, we plan, we create – pyramids, skyscrapers, hospitals, space shuttles.
We can build foundations for our children that are the imperfect result of balancing today with tomorrow, while learning from yesterday.
I was intent on not writing today. I was intent on joining those who are respectfully observing a moment of quiet, a day of quiet, a period of respectful silence and equally respectful reflection. But if those reflections propose that we only have today? I recognize the pain in their origin, but I want nothing to do with them.
Let us speak our words of love – plainly. Let us speak them to those we do love, without feeling foolish. Let us speak our pain and our fear equally plainly. Let us be empathetic and respectful, knowing we may disagree.
And let us put pressure on our politicians, our visionaries, each other – to continue the dialog, to do so civilly, to go beyond words to constructive action, and to demand that we look to tomorrow, while loving each other – today.