The face we turn toward our own unconscious is the face we turn toward the world. ~R. Rohr~
Breaking news close to home
This has been an unusual week in our household. Typically, effects of shootings and other violent crime are far removed from us. We can offer our version of “thoughts and prayers” alongside those of other relatively unaffected citizens. This week, a shooting at a local mall felt very close to home, and it has us talking.
One of our adult sons works in media management for a North America-wide retail store. When word of an “active shooter” reached him on a Monday evening in September, he jumped to action. He and his (wholly untrained) co-workers promptly locked the store down. They escorted customers safely out through a controlled entrance, and found their own way to safety in good time.
The first I heard about it was in the laundry room. My grown-up boy quietly came up the stairs to where I was sorting and began with, “I’ve had quite a day. It didn’t shorten my shift, or anything,” (Oh, the details we offer when we’re in shock.) “but there was a shooting at the mall today.”
Sometimes you just need eggs
And from there the story unfolded. As shock wore off and his body started to adjust from the grip of Adrenalin, problem solving, and emergency response, he wobbled. “I was fine, Mom. Fine. I did everything right. But this was pretty close to home.” We breathed a little. He took a minute for solitude and quiet and weeping, and then obeyed my command to come downstairs and “…eat some eggs!” Once at the kitchen island, head lowered in exhaustion, his first words were, “Nothing even happened to me.”
But of course something happened “to him.” He wasn’t threatened with a gun, or grazed by a bullet. Nor did he have direct contact with the police officers securing the mall. He was not physically harmed in any way. But something most certainly happened to him. Our conversation last night brought the wobble to the surface again, and I watched him wrestle with his emotions: he has been impacted by this.
A non-anxious presence in an anxious world
The victim of Monday’s attack, and the lives of every patron and mall employee in the vicinity of that shooting are forever altered. The life of the shooter is changed. One more thread of our society’s fabric has been tugged on. First responders to the scene that day will never go to work the same way again. And they may not go to the mall the same way, either. My own family’s experience is a gentle story of the impact of the anxiety, rage, hostility, and just-beneath-the-surface tendency to violence that some of our fellows are experiencing.
When Rohr says, The face we turn toward our own unconscious is the face we turn toward the world, we can draw both comfort and caution.
Our intentions, our habits, our way of being in the world? It matters. If we are challenging our own implicit biases, and broadening our understanding of humanity and belief, we will contribute to peace and goodness broadly. When we nurture hate and small mindedness? Well, that’s what we’ll put out into the world.
If we tend to our own interior life with compassion and patience and quiet, we may find that is what we have to offer others around us. A person who does violence has turned, first, on himself. Fear and anger are in the driver’s seat; the narrative in that mind is one of self-preservation and survival. There is greed and anxiety coursing through the hand that clasps that firearm.
What would it be like to be persuaded of the value of all people? The right to dignity and safety. The right to life. What if that offering of dignity begins with how we view the value of our own “wild and precious life” (M. Oliver)?
It’s not easy being mean
As a (proud!) mama, I note the way of being of my son; I note that of the young man that wielded a firearm in a crowded mall. My son has worked diligently, effortfully to cultivate a life of goodness, gentleness, peace, patience. He hasn’t been haphazard about this. He’s thought about who he wants to be as a man; he’s made consistent choices to practice a way of being that is non-anxious. “But it’s hard, Mom. I feel all the feelings. Like, I can handle these crisis situations really well, but the after effects? They’re terrible.” And yet, he holds. He remains true to his values.
The young boy (because he was just a boy) that decided that an act of violence was the solution to his own struggle has a different process. A thousand factors and choices brought him to the mall with a gun that day. Doubtless, there has been deep suffering in his life. Certainly he has not had the know-how of applying himself to serious self-assessment and character work. But maybe this will be a changing time for him? Maybe he, too, will consider who he wants to be, how he wants to be, in this one short life? Perhaps he can shift his inward gaze to a gentler, safer, more compassionate lens, and thereby alter his footprint in the world.
I lean into the end of the week taking a little stock of what my own self-care/other-care way of being really is. Is that way altered when breaking news violence vibrates the strings of my family web? Are there ways that I can extend deeper kindness and compassion more broadly? Perhaps if I look more tenderly on myself my gaze upon the world be softer, too.