I have spent the past several nights away from my phone. It wasn’t a decision I made myself. I think it went something like, me scrolling through my twitter feed, occasionally stopping, and speaking, with an elevated blood pressure dictating the words coming out of my mouth, fueled by anger, frustration, and all kind of swirling emotion, my husband listening calmly, and then reaching over and taking the phone from my hands.
“You need to be done.”
So I was, done, this scenario repeating itself several times over the course of a week.
The problem Sunday night, when this happened was, the news. There was another mass shooting. I wanted to stay on top of things, to learn what was happening, to take in the facts so I knew how to engage with the twitter storm in front of me. Because though the news was still fresh, the responses were immediate and emotion and all over the map.
There were the “thoughts and prayers” tweets.
And then the tweets slamming thoughts and prayers because they were starting to sound trite in the face of such overwhelming violence.
There were the gun control tweets.
And then the tweets slamming the politicizing of a tragedy in the immediate aftermath of it unfolding…followed by the tweets saying it was never more appropriate than the immediate aftermath of a national tragedy to begin talking about gun control, because change needs to happen immediately in order to keep something like this from ever happening again.
There was the grieving over it happening in a church.
And the frustration that people thought because it happened in a church made it more tragic than any other shooting.
There were the conversations on access to guns for a mentally disturbed person and the citizen who used his own gun to stop the carnage.
There was every possible position and every possible emotion and every possible response and it was hard to know what to do with it all.
Already the layers were deep, the angles multi-faceted and the opinions being shouted with raised voices taking views and the people who held them, on a trajectory that moved them farther and farther way from one other, with less and less common ground.
There was a lot devastating about the shooting Sunday, but I kept coming back around to the fact that it took hours, just hours, for the dissent to begin. For the ways people grieved and processed to be dissected and argued and dismissed and elevated.
Brene Brown writes that the biggest problems she hears talked about from parents to CEO’s, all stem in some form or another, from disengagement. It makes sense. We are wired for connection, for acceptance, for feeling a sense worth, and we can’t hope to experience those things disengaged from the people around us.
I read what Brene wrote the day after the shooting in Texas. I read it when I was still trying to make sense of not just the tragedy itself but the reactions to it. When no one seemed to say something that wasn’t disputed and argued against. When even the most well meaning sentiment was taken to task.
I read it and I realized that every comment or reaction that seemed to be at odds with each other, that seemed to be heading in increasingly divergent directions, actually had a common denominator that was missed in all the noise.
They were signs of engagement.
Of being emotionally involved. Of caring. Of wanting, in some form or fashion, to make sense of it all. They played out in ways all over the map. In prayers for some people, because for them, it is the most powerful thing they know to do. And it sounds trite and maybe meaningless and like a platitude to others, but it isn’t that. Not for the people doing it. Not for the ones on their knees, wringing their hands on behalf of the victims of the tragedy.
They played out in phone numbers of Congressmen and Congresswomen and Senators, pleas to call and flood their lines in Washington begging for reform, for legislation, for change. And to some that sounds like an impossible ship to turn, and for others, an attack on an amendment they feel should be defended, or a bandaid on a much larger spiritual problem. But for the people making the calls, it is an action, it is a tangible effort that feels civically responsible and necessary, and maybe the start of a bigger reform.
The point is, chances are none of us are grieving or mourning and responding the right way. Whatever the “right” way is. Maybe not even by our own standards. Maybe we are praying and wondering if it even matters. Maybe we are shouting “reform!” but aren’t convinced much would change even if the laws did. Maybe we feel like nothing we do is enough, so we stay glued to our screens, observers of the tragedies until we can’t do it any longer and we put the phone down and feel even emptier than we did when we started.
Because we judged the engagement of the people around us instead of taking a deep breath and engaging ourselves. Because we feared engaging for what might be said back to us. For fear of saying the wrong thing, for fear of saying anything and for fear it wouldn’t be nearly as effective or meaningful as we want it to be.
But we only do the wrong thing when we are absorbers and not processers. When we disengage. When we pull back. When we stop from contributing and sharing and playing our part because none of it will be enough and all of it may be wrong. The thing us, it won’t be enough and it could be misheard or misinterpreted or judged or cut down or dismissed. It may. It may sound trite. It may sound angry. It may sound unreasonable. It may sound foolish. But I think what Brene Brown was trying to say was how it sounds and how it’s received matters little. What really counts is that it was done it all.
I think I’ll stay away from my phone for a little while longer in the evenings. Because it can be a fine line between engaging and judging someone else’s engaging and I’m tired. Because I think we are all doing the best we can, and none of it will be perfect. And because I don’t want to become cynical. And these days it’s easy to be cynical. I’ll engage with the people closest to me, who get me. Who give grace when I say it wrong, and who love me anyway. Who listen if what I say conflicts with what they think, but who know my heart and have an abundance of understanding to pass along when we land in different places. I’ll engage with the people who make up my face to face life, because they are the real, flesh and blood three dimensional people who matter everyday, and not just the days when the unspeakable happens.
If you too feel like you are reeling from another tragedy, don’t disengage from these same people in your life.
Don’t pull back.
Don’t silence yourself.
And don’t silence others.
Do the best you can. It’s what we’re all trying to do.
It’s why we pray.
It’s why we call our elected officials.
It’s why we examine mental illness.
We do all we know to do knowing it isn’t enough, and we get it. But we don’t jump ship because of it. We say what we can because it’s something. And we say it to the people who are physically around us because we can have conversations that way and conversations move us forward, when violence makes us feel like we are sinking and stuck and impossibly hopeless.
Of course it’s not enough. Nothing is, right now. But we show up for it anyway. In hopes that our mistakes in figuring it out, in mourning and grieving and moving forward are enough, because they are tangible evidence that we are present. And sometimes just being present in the real, and not just the virtual, matters more than anything else.