Wait for the surprise to come, to sink in somehow before I realize that surprise isn’t suppose to sink in, it’s supposed to shock…immediately. That’s when I accept that it’s not coming, and I feel that callous void with a deep sadness as I scroll through the hashtags and the notes of prayer. I feel my eyeballs frantically dart side to side, my face illuminated by the screen in the darkness of the room, as I scan an article trying to absorb the details of what happened. There is still a numbness to it all. I start relaying details to my husband, who was all ready to catch the express bus to work, but is now waiting at the end of the bed. I watch as my brown-skinned husband breathes a small sigh of relief when I get to the part about the gunman. A white male. White. Male. That sigh holds so much weight as it brings with it the relief that at least for today, he will not have to shoulder the burden of a crime that doesn’t even belong to him. That sigh means he won’t feel like he has to shave his growing beard or wear sandals at the airport just to avoid any potential confrontation.
White. Male. This massacre will not prompt talk of walls or bans. There may be discourse surrounding mental illness, and if we are lucky there will be action surrounding gun control, but if hallways full of slain six and seven-year-olds don’t turn the tide, I am not convinced that anything will.
A dear friend sent me an article last week by author Mark Greene titled Why Do We Murder the Beautiful Friendships of Boys? in which he explores how as a society we treat friendships between boys differently than friendships between girls and what impact that has on our culture. I am still digesting how I feel about what he had to say, but something about his piece felt relevant to the narrative surrounding the mass-shooting epidemic in America.
Greene quotes an article from the New Republic titled The Lethality of Loneliness, where Judith Schulevitz writes: “Emotional isolation is ranked as high a risk factor for mortality as smoking. A partial list of the physical diseases thought to be caused by or exacerbated by loneliness would include Alzheimers, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, neurodegenerative diseases, and even cancer. Tumors can metastasize faster in lonely people.”
I am by no means trying to take the easy way out and label this gunman as a ‘loner’, but the concept of fatal isolation gives me a renewed desire to fiercely protect my kids’ (especially my son’s) friendships as well as my own.
So how do we resect this tumor of loneliness? I’m not sure even Dr. Meredith Grey could handle that one.
For me, I have to bring it down to a micro level and focus on doing what I can within my own tribe in hopes that the good will fan its way out. Hold the door open for a stranger. Tell a mom bouncing a toddler on her hip to keep him quiet in the check-out line that she is doing a great job. Invite a neighbor over for dinner. Ask someone how his/her day is going and really want to hear the answer.
I burned myself last night in the kitchen and not less than two seconds after I cried out in pain, my sweet six-year-old son crawled out of bed and without being asked, sleepily brought me a wet paper towel for the burn and patted my back.
Every act of kindness matters.
As I scrolled through Instagram yesterday, I came across one post that I read over and over. A poem by the late, great, Langston Hughes:
I am so tired of waiting,
For the world to become good
And beautiful and kind?
Let us take a knife
And cut the world in two –
And see what worms are eating
At the rind.
We are here now, open and exposed, clinging to each other across the craggy divide. We fight to make the world whole again. Except for this time, we will ensure that the pieces fit back together without anything festering below the surface. We will once again feel surprise in the wake of tragedy.
Marissa B. Niranjan is a mother of three who refuses to live in a world where people being shot, either en masse, or with their arms up, is not a surprise. She also relies on the giggles of her three-month-old son (and a resurrected love for Grey’s Anatomy thanks to a marathon binge watching session during maternity leave) to help her see through the darkness.