For there is nothing heavier than compassion.
Not even one’s own pain weighs so heavy as the pain one feels with someone, for someone, a pain intensified by the imagination and prolonged by a hundred echoes. ~ Milan Kundera
There are some things that are so horrible and awful and terrible, that they don’t ever seem real. Until they are real. And even now when they are real, I find myself continuously being drawn back to a place of suspended animation and disbelief. That this reality cannot actually be real. But it is real. And it is horrible and awful and there are simply no words in any language that can impart the kind of raw, visceral sadness I am speaking of.
I woke up today for the third time since a permanent shift occurred in the reality I inhabit. And the cats wanted food, and the sun came up, and the people went to work, me among them. As I sat on the train, knowing I would soon be riding the same train back to the City with 50 tenth graders, I read the news. I wanted to read about news really far away from me. From places where terrible, awful things happen all the time and so they don’t seem like such incomprehensible aberrations. And the first thing I read was about how this month is National Stalking Awareness Day. I am fairly certain in this context the focus is on internet stalking, but the connection between cyber-stalking and real stalking is too real for me. Especially now.
There are a litany of self-aggrandizing idiots on the internet who consider themselves “internet-famous” (a euphemism for being NOT famous…) and as such are constantly blubbering on and on about how they are “stalked.” These people post photos of their boobs all over the interwebs, try desperately hard to be titillating… and then cry, “Oh my! That person thinks I want to talk sexy with them!” Or, “God, that person is so obsessed with me!” In light of what it really means to be stalked, and what is on my mind today, these sad little people only add insult to the injury I am feeling right now. The things that lead a person to stalk another are probably impossible to be understood by any other, but when the outcome leads to tragedy, it points to a whole host of problems that have far-reaching effects. And when the tragedy touches you in a deeply personal way, you find yourself trying to make sense of things that make no sense and becoming enraged about pitiful people you don’t know or care about on the internet while you ride the train to work because to think about the pain that is really weighing on your heart and soul is so awful you cannot even breathe when it enters your mind.
I need to breathe.
We habitually erect a barrier called blame that keeps us from communicating genuinely with others, and we fortify it with our concepts of who’s right and who’s wrong. We do that with the people who are closest to us and we do it with political systems, with all kinds of things that we don’t like about our associates or our society. It is a very common, ancient, well-perfected device for trying to feel better. Blame others… Blaming is a way to protect your heart, trying to protect what is soft and open and tender in yourself. Rather than own that pain, we scramble to find some comfortable ground.”
Looking for explanations for the inexplicable is probably a road straight to insanity, but it is something I keep coming back to. It also leads to assigning false causality to minutia, and to conjecture, and to blame. I wanted to place this overwhelming grief onto someone else for the simple relief that anger might offer. For a moment I felt better.
But the relief was short-lived.
The only way out of the labyrinth of suffering is to forgive. ~John Greene
The events that transpired in my hometown on Sunday afternoon, to people who I have known and loved for so many years, have left me and this small town adrift. That a family who I hold so dear in my heart and who have had a tremendous influence on my life are going through something so horrible is unconscionable. It is unfair. It is enough to engender feelings of anger that I was unprepared to deal with. But the worse I was feeling, and the more wound up in anger I became, I realized I was only adding to the horror of this situation. And compassion and forgiveness might be the only way I can regain some sort of balance in my mind. I do not have to forgive an individual who I have always struggled with for being who they were, but perhaps as the only way to quell the negativity within my mind, I would have to forgive them for this final act, if only as a small act of compassion towards such an injured person. This forgiveness actually felt quite selfish. I was doing it only for myself and simultaneously felt wracked with guilt for attempting to forgive.
But I kept thinking about it. In forgiving one person, I was not minimizing the other. Nor was I excusing the behavior of that individual, in recent times or further back. What I was trying to do was realign my energy to focus on the people for whom I am intensely grieving. And then, strangely, I started to feel a bit better.
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle. ~ Plato
As I look back on the life of my friend who has been taken away, the interconnectedness of all of us becomes so painfully clear, and not just because we come from a small town, but because the lives we live have far-reaching effects in wonderfully positive ways, as well as some that are terribly tragic. To try to understand why things happen after the fact is futile. There is no way to truly understand what you watch from any sort of distance, really you would be lucky to have a clear understanding of things you directly experience.
There are no words I can offer right now to a family I wish nothing more for than relief and peace. A family that has always welcomed me, and remembered me, and supported me no matter what. And to the friends I have on all sides of this tragedy, I feel equally helpless. Perhaps for these reasons I find myself here, writing in vagaries and tangents. Though it is little compensation I am sure, I turn now to another great mind:
To know even one life as breathed easier because you have lived… this is to have succeeded. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
Please give if you can: Conover & Sullivan Childeren
*photo: Curtis Stankalis