A broken heart is not like shattered glass. Larger shards, small pieces, and bits ground to dust. The visible pieces can be trampled on or smashed again and broken further, but still when everything is dust, a heart can still be broken again. A human being’s capacity for empathy and love is so extensive, that it can be shredded over and over again and even with massive loss can still be so full, the pain spills over. This is part of the glory and horror of our shared humanity, and today we need to feel devastation.
Last night Dr. A came home late from his show while I was hurrying to finish my evening of paper crafting, inky fingers and scraps of paper everywhere, an episode of Star Trek TOS playing in the background. When he asked me if I’d seen the news, my breath caught. I had spent the night actively avoiding the outside world—what now?
After reading a few articles on the most recent tragedy, I was filled with an acute feeling that I needed to remember how I felt in that moment, in these moments. This feeling that the country, and possibly the world, are crumbling around me. A sense of utter horror, sadness, and helplessness. A feeling that this is a pivotal moment that has been building for a long time, but it is only now that I so sharply feel this sense of ruination. It’s hard not to wonder if this is to be the end of some kind. Are we headed for total anarchy or for a tyranny? My thoughts coalesce on everything that’s been causing this feeling to well within me: the fear mongering hate and extremism of this election cycle, mass shootings, cops killing black people, people killing cops, and so the list goes on.
The feeling I so desperately want to remember is this apocalyptic sense, this fear of the end of normalcy, this fear that at any time everything could crash and burn. To be sure, I feel a bit better now that it’s not 2 am, and I had some at least partial sleep. But, that feeling is so important because I, we, no one should have to feel that way.
A few weeks ago, I was in a busy mall food court with a friend, and we saw a man with a briefcase. He was opening it and closing it, looking around. We both immediately started to wonder if he had a gun in that case. Rationally, it didn’t make much sense, but all I could do was look for exits and determine which way I would run. We visually followed him as he left his table and started walking. A few minutes later he met up with a woman who clearly was his significant other, and they immediately started holding hands. My mind quickly constructed another narrative; maybe he had an engagement ring in his briefcase.
The truth is that I have wanted to write a post like this several times for the last few months. The anniversary of Freddie Gray’s death. During a portion of the primaries when a lot of people were telling me they wouldn’t bother to vote. After the most recent Freddie Gray trial verdict. But, I didn’t. I didn’t because I felt arrogant and narcissistic. Aren’t I just making all of this about me?
Someone told me that this is a unique time, but I don’t believe that. Every era has its own fears that the world will fall apart, that it is a turning point. This will only prove to be a unique time if things do change. Will the world quickly crumble? Will the world as we know it continue and grind slowly towards positive change? Will the world as we know it slowly slip away through a spinning wheel of hate and death? Will we be brave and strong enough to move forward, or will we collapse under the weight of our own fears, prejudices, hate, and complacency?
I spend a good deal of my time hiding behind my privilege, and I do so little to contribute to real change because I don't want to rock the boat of my privileged little life. I want to live and die in those cozy confines, but real people are living painfully and dying outside of myself. And no amount of socially conscious 60s sci fi, crime procedurals, or 90s movies will change that. When I wrote my post last year I ended with the sentiment that “I can do better,” but what have I done? I’ve felt guilty about not doing more. I’ve written many passionate Facebook posts and comments. Those things are not “doing better.”
And now I write this post because my hidey hole of privilege has been infringed upon. Because my own fear has woken me up and kept me from sleeping. Yes, this is about me, but maybe that’s the point. It needs to be about me and about everyone else who comes home and flips on the tv or sits down to watercolor or to play with his or her kids, seemingly unaffected personally by the tragic events happening all around us. I’m not saying we should wait this long to do anything—action should not only be a product of reaching the edge of the cliff, but now we do need to make every effort to feel and to engage with everything that is happening.
We need to feel. We need to stay up nights troubled with anxiety. We need to write letters. We need to vote. We need to donate what we can—time, effort, or money. We need to lend support. We need to empathize. We need to use our fear to make a better world. We need to stop the constant waves of eviscerating heartbreak. We need to see. We need to feel.