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The Things We've Learned

Isn't it strange and heartbreaking that the timeline of our life is palpably peppered with tragedy both large and small. I remember walking through my high school's sprawling, multi-building campus before beginning my freshman year in August of 1999, months after the Columbine High School massacre, and noting how easy it would be for anyone with a gun to stand on top of the elevated science building and open fire into the lawn, the walkways, and the glass-fronted commons. The possibility was chilling - visceral - and stayed with me all four years and even as I offered a speech at graduation from the deck of that same building, looking out onto a few hundred people on the grass below. At this point in my own life, going to concerts, movie theaters, malls, large grocery stores and lively outdoor public events gives me pause. I look for the exits. I respond to quick movements. I scan for unusual sounds. This mind is trained in the art of vigilance, the heart and body burdened with it.

In the 23 years since, we have witnessed a seemingly random and undoubtedly accelerated call to violence and hatred. Not quite halfway through year, the U.S. has seen over 200 mass shootings in 2022*. This is part of the truth of our country and our culture. Violence is in the daily fabric of the American way of life. The right to bear arms and spout absolute nonsense for ratings has become more sacred than the right to breathe unpolluted air. We know the power of rhetoric, suggestion, the spark that ignites the kindling. Like a pack of starving wolves, those who feel isolated, disempowered, disillusioned, unhinged, deranged, and hopeless lash out in desperate search of meaning, security, relevancy. And yet, the reality of the frequency of this dysfunction gives way to a sort of mundanity as well. We stop feeling it as deeply. We turn away. We move on. We sink into a sort of emotional and energetic impotence as a way of survival. These are the lasting ripples of living in a culture where violence, whether gun, racial, sexual, physical, cultural, emotional, verbal or financial is the norm.

We have two options:

To calcify, harden, to turn away from, to deny, to distract ourselves from what is horrific, unfair, disgusting & heartbreaking. To say the problem is too big, too wide, and beyond our reach. To believe the possible solutions inconvenient, naive, idealistic.

To open, to soften & be with the anger, the fear, the sadness, the shame. To notice the energy, the body feeling, the mental fireworks & narratives, the confusion, the paralysis - whatever it is. To trust your capacity to be with what is present. To let the heart break. Again and again and again.

I cannot pretend to have the answers or to claim equanimity - I am also both a product and victim of this culture. But we know better than to meet ambivalence with ambivalence. We know better than to meet anger with anger. We have already felt what it is to turn away, to let the overwhelm sink our confidence as we turn to cynicism and blame as a sort of righteous indignation. We've been there, and we know it only serves to further harm ourselves, our relationships, and our communities. I encourage all of us to take care of ourselves. To move. To breathe. To be kind to ourselves and to - in ways big or small - go out of our way to be kind to those in our community. Only together can we step out of the cycle of suffering. This is how we move forward with skillful action.

Have the courage to trust love one more time,

and always one more time.

Maya Angelou

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