This has been a devastating month for empath’s, and I for one am completely and utterly exhausted.
I will never forget the first time I really got a taste of empathetic burnout when Columbine took place. I was a junior in high school at the time and the images and sounds from the shootings ruminated in my mind for months – even making their way into my dreams when I started having reoccurring nightmares of trench coat cladded shadows coming to gun me down. I felt such sadness, fear, and loss for all of those families. I truly put myself in those kid’s shoes and imagined what their last few moments on this earth must have felt like… I felt it all. I felt it hard.
That experience lapsed again on 9/11.
I’ll never forget waking up in bed with my college sweetheart and getting that phone call from my father to go downstairs and turn on the television. The images of bodies dropping from windows of buildings burned a scar into my memory for years on end and it would be almost a decade before I would get inside of an airplane without breaking into full-blown panic attacks thanks to the audio tapes from the flight recorders.
Two weeks ago that same college sweetheart from 9/11 died tragically and he left behind his gorgeous wife and two precious daughters. I’ve spent a lot of time looking at the photos of the four of them and imagining what they must be going through as they continue on with life without their husband and father. I can feel their loss, their pain, and their devastation in ways that only an empath could really understand. I’ve cried so many tears for them, without even really knowing them.
Then last week my husband and I were having lunch at the local shopping mall with my two babies, when we were locked inside of the glass-walled restaurant and watched in fear and panic as a mass of people came barreling and screaming down the corridor, running frantically away from something (which we later found out they were running from the police who were arresting anyone not leaving the mall). Because I didn’t realize there had been a protest taking place; my mind flashed to those memories of Columbine and the pictures on the television of Paris and Orlando, and every cell of my body said to myself, “Someone has a gun… This must be a shooting”. I trembled as I protected my babies with my body and scanned the mass of people that were racing by and screaming as more police officers came into the building from the other entrance and began wrestling dozens of people to the ground in a furry of whistleblowing chaos. The Stockley verdict had been handed down only weeks prior, and there had been a great uprising in my hometown over Black Lives Matter. The entire scene made my heart feel like it was being ripped from my chest. Oh the pain….oh the pain.
Four days later my phone rang with my black son’s teacher on the line informing me that while he was camping with his class, a group of local teenagers in the town they were camping in harassed and threatened him and called him a Nigger. He was confused and shocked and wanted to know one single question…. Why? Why did someone hate him for the color of his skin? Why did they want to hurt him?
And then lastly, today, we are all walking around like complete zombies trying to process that same question as it pertains to the horrific massacre that occurred in Vegas on Sunday evening. What in the world would compel someone to do such a thing? It seems no one can figure out what the motive was behind this prolonged and vicious assault from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. No one can understand….why?
And it is that why that has made this week especially difficult for me both as mother and a person. Why would teenagers want to murder their peers? Why would a radical religious group believe that killing innocent people is an act of God? Why would a police officer declare that he was going to “kill this mother fucker” during a police chase and then do just that…and we call that justice? Why would a group of teenagers want to hurt my son and believe it’s acceptable to use those words? And lastly, why would a man rain bullets down on a crowd of other human beings with such complete disregard for human life?
For Pete’s sake, why in the world would anyone want to hurt someone else?
Especially when every single cell of my being just wishes I could take everyone’s pain away. I hurt for all the hurt. I cry with those who cry. I ache for those who ache.
And I just wish so desperately that I could go back in time to when they were little people and mother them like I do my three kiddos. I want to tell them all that they are love, and they are enough, and that while the world has a great deal of darkness and evil in it – is it also this incredible magical gift that can be filled with sunrises, and concerts overlooking the mountains, and first kisses, and the sound of your children’s cries the moment they are born.
I want them to know the incredible love that is in the world. I want them to understand compassion and empathy. I just want to hold all the angry dark and violent people in my arms and love all over them until they drop their weapons and let it go. I want to take all of the pain away that brought them to whatever dark place turned their hearts black.
But I cannot.
And I really don’t know how to explain all of this to my children….
I know so many of us want to be a part of the solution. I know the insanity has got to stop…. Now. I know there is a great deal of energy being put into social reform and I think that’s a wonderful step. I know that gun control is probably the simplest and most necessary first step in minimizing the devastation of this crazy mass killing insantiy. Legislation needs to change – there’s just no way around that – we’ve just got to band togetehr now and say our hearts have had enough and no one needs mass killing machines.
But at some point, we also have to address the why.
I wrote a very complex and psychologically based post last week that was my very best attempt at dissecting the why hearts turn black in the first place. I visited my mother last night in the ICU and was given yet another reminder of the pain and suffering of the mentally ill population and the isolation and abandonment that society has left them with. I have fought doctors all day today to try and get someone…anyone…. to do something more so that my mother’s pain is seen and addressed and taken seriously. And yet she aches… And yet she is left alone. There are no sunsets in her life. No magical experiences. No love of those who invest in her solution. And the hospitals are filled with these broken people. And pain turns to rage when it doesn’t heal and those with compassion and empathy could never hurt another.
I just have to hang on to my belief that life is good and love can heal all wounds. I can only stand up and keep hugging and loving and mothering and nurturing. I don’t even have any anger left anymore. I can only look to the next generation and believe that we can love them better…that we can stop leaving the broken ones behind, that trauma is the birthplace of all the darkness, and that we can prevent future traumas from happening if we all invest in what’s next.
I can only believe that those who hurt others were hurt too and that we can do better for those who are hurting.
I still have to stand and say, look to the children. Look to the kids who are being slapped in the supermarkets, the teenagers in the corner that are isolated by their peers, the young people in foster care who have been molested and abused and left behind. Look at the invisible people – the ones who are wasting away with no one to care for them, the ones who are stuck in the system, the ones who need the love the most. Love someone who needs it. It starts and ends with empathy and compassion. We have to do better.
The only work that will ultimately bring any good to any of us is the work of contributing to the healing of the world. – Marianne Williamson