If humanity had a voice she would be singing,
Help, I have done it again
I have been here many times before
Hurt myself again today
And the worst part is there’s no one else to blame
(Sia, “Breathe Me“)
I am in mourning. Fifty people are dead who should still be alive, forty-nine of them victims of the other. I wasn’t built to carry this sort of truth. It is awful. It is too much.
Before I continue, I warn you not to expect a soothing resolution to this post. If you are in a fragile state you may not be well served in reading the rest. I also assure you that I am in no risk of self-harm, so do not be alarmed for me. I am in pain but still robust.
On Saturday night I got home late and checked the news before retiring. I saw a developing story about an attack at a gay nightclub. I read only the headline before drifting to sleep. By morning I had forgotten about it entirely. I checked the news again and the details had filled out during the night. Fifty dead.
A sensation formed at the top of my chest, a pressure point at about my third rib. My back muscles clenched and pulled my shoulders inward and forward. My breathing grew shallow and uncomfortable, and my vision spotted. As I read more details, my eyes burned. My legs and feet turned cold from calf to arch. My tongue and throat dried. My stomach twisted and grew increasingly acidic. It is the acidity I remember most.
As the morning wore on shock gave way to grief. The stinging behind my eyes meant I was holding back tears. I was losing breath for long moments. My hands were cold. The acidity was getting worse and spreading upward into my chest cavity. At the sacrament service we prayed for strength to choose the right and to be uplifted by the lessons of the day, but all I wanted was for fifty people to not be dead. The clouds broke and I wept and wept.
That evening I was scheduled to dine with friends and celebrate a birthday. I went and engaged and began to forget. But as difficult as was the pain, letting it go was unthinkable. This grief was too important. The next day I was despondent. I cancelled dinner plans and spent hours alone in my bed staring at the ceiling. The little time I was with friends I constantly thought about retreating. The next day I worked from home and listened to sad songs alone at night.
I have no personal tie to the horrific events of last weekend. None of the victims are my friends or family. My own life was never in danger. I’ve never danced at Pulse and I haven’t seen Orlando in fifteen years. The whole massacre is, in a sense, not my problem.
But my stomach tells me over and over that I am not okay. In a matter of hours, one human killed forty-nine others. I am also human. I am one of them. I am one of a species that tears itself in pieces. I mourn the pain the victims, those lost and those surviving, have suffered and will suffer. I mourn the endless loss of life that drips like a faucet, everywhere.
Some of my grief is intentional. I don’t enjoy feeling this way. It is not fun. But in my view, grief is the price I pay to live in this world. For every breath I enjoy in peace and safety, somewhere a breath is cut short. I must willingly open myself to the pain of others because I am here and they are too.
And I grieve because it changes me. Mourning is an investment in another’s soul. If I am consumed today in the pain of my neighbor, I dare not cause her more pain tomorrow. Her pain has become mine. So I mourn not just these fifty fallen, but all who fall unseen. I say I mourn, but I know I am only trying.
Yet I cannot bear this. Our suffering is so overwhelmingly self-inflicted. Too many lost. Too many hurt. We are broken. I am heartsick.