I can’t keep up.
I’m still processing, writing, and throwing things in response to the Stanford rape case. I’m not ready for more grief and outrage; but these sick happenings do not unfold with us in mind. Now I am deep in grief and anger towards the Orlando shooting but, every once in a while, Brock Turner’s face will pop up in my mind and I’ll think, “Oh yeah, there’s still that, too.” Every day, in fact, more news breaks that can build grief upon grief in our hearts.
How do we manage it all? How will there ever be enough room in our heart and time in our day to process, grieve, and respond to all that is taking place around us? I think I’m actually asking, because I have no answers here.
Historically speaking, I’m a runner. I tend to bolt when I feel overwhelmed with grief. I once “ran” to Australia in an attempt to escape the grief of a painful breakup. I stayed there for two years. Facing sorrow, anger, and heartbreak is not a favorite pastime for most of us.
In these past couple of days, as I feel the “muchness” of this, that, and the other awful thing, I have been reminded of an uncharacteristic run I once took in the midst of grief.
Near the end of my senior year in high school, one of my mom’s closest friends—a good friend to our family—was dying in the upstairs bedroom of her home. Cancer was slowly taking her away from us, and we knew it wouldn’t be long before our time with her was up. At that point, cancer was not a familiar presence to me; death was not a reality I had faced very much, if at all. I was in over my head with the sheer volume of things to process—the typical high school relational drama, moving away for college in a few months, and the impending death of our sweet Barbara. So, I did what I knew to do: I ran.
I left school in the middle of the day. I simply could not be there anymore. I didn’t have a plan, I just knew I needed to go. I ran, only this time I ran towards the grief. I drove to Barbara’s house and sat on the sidewalk, staring up at the window of the bedroom where she was spending her final days. I cried, I prayed, I sat in silence—and then, eventually, I went back to school.
A couple of days later, my truancy had been discovered and I was called into the Dean’s office. I had never been to the Dean’s office before; typically this maiden voyage would have been accompanied with buckets of tears and shame, but I felt nearly none of that. I was just numb. I was grieving.
The Dean asked all of the expected questions, and I answered him as honestly as I could. I told him about Barbara and how I felt the pull to leave school and go sit outside of her home. I knew I probably should have gone about it in a different way, so as not to ditch school, but I was not thinking about little consequences like detention while feeling washed over with grief.
After I shared my story, I sat silently, eyes on the floor, awaiting my punishment. The Dean was quiet. When I looked up at him, he had tears streaming down his face. The slow death of our Barbara brought him back to a memory of a cherished life he had lost when he was my age. We sat in his office, both in tears, talking about life, death, grief, and healing. I wasn’t given a detention for my truancy.
Life feels incredibly heavy to me right now. I feel so much grief, rage, fear, empathy, and calls to action. I want to “keep up” with it all, and when I realize I can’t, I want to run. What I am reminded of with my high school truancy is that it is okay if we need to run sometimes. I am telling myself that as much as I’m telling it to anyone else, because I need to remember that we can (and should) be human-sized in the midst of tragedies like Orlando or insanities like the Stanford rape case.
The pull to run is not abnormal. Some may want to run away from it all, and some may want to run towards the epicenter of the grief, as I did when going to Barbara’s. Neither is wrong. I’ve done both. The grief will find us, and we are allowed to work through it in the timing that feels best for each of us.
This is big stuff that is happening in our communities. I fully believe we need to take particular care of those who have felt the first wave of impact—in the case of the Orlando shooting, it is the victims and their families, as well as the larger LGBTQ community. And we also need to take care of ourselves, as these national tragedies impact us all. Run where you need to run. Hold vigil where you need to hold vigil, be it at a park or a church, in your bed or on the sidewalk outside of the home of someone who is hurting. (And then, we take action in whatever way feels appropriate to us, for whatever circumstance we feel led to give our energies to. We cannot do it all, but we can do things!)
We cannot keep up. There is too much awful happening in the world. We each may process it all differently, so my prayer for us is for space and grace. May we have the space to feel what we need to feel, and may we have grace for ourselves and our neighbors as we are sent reeling after another mass shooting. May we be tender towards one another, may we look each other in the eyes with kindness, may we give someone a free pass when they commit truancy in the midst of their overwhelm.
We are human-sized, and need not try to be bigger or smaller than that. We do not need to be a savior—we have one already and He is with us, whether you feel Him or not—and we do not need to take up less space than we really need. There is nothing simplistic about the feelings these current events bring up in us. Today is another day, good people. We can do this.
Peace to you.
*If you are looking for action steps in the aftermath of the Orlando shooting, Brenda Salter McNeil offers some ideas for how we can respond.