The Pain That Connects Us

Warning: This is raw and unedited, and not super thought out either. But when I don't know what to do with my feelings, I write. This is what came out.

I began writing a post after the Sandy Hook shooting, but I never finished it. I never found words that seemed to adequately capture my feelings and thoughts. So, with tomorrow being the one year anniversary of the shooting, I sat down to write again, one year later. And just as I picked up my pen, a notification flashed across my phone screen, "School shooting in Colorado. 2 injured. Shooter is active." My heart felt as though it literally had sunk to my feet. My chest tightened, squeezing the tears up and out of my eyes. "NOOOOO. Not another one," I cried, as I'm sure so many did when they heard the news. I had to just sit in it for a minute and feel the pain. Not because I like to feel pain but because I need to feel pain.

You see, I don't know or pretend to know what it's like to receive a text from my son that says there is a shooter in his school and he is safe, for now. I don't know what it is like to be emotionally strangled by hearing the news that my son was one of the ones that didn't make it out alive. I don't know what it is like to be a teacher, who risks her own life to protect the lives of her students. I don't know what it's like to be a student who witnesses the shooting of her classmates while trembling in fear beneath her desk. I don't know what it is like to be a first responder who has to carry a child's limp body to an ambulance. I don't know what it's like to be a doctor who did her best to mitigate the gun shot wounds of a 5 year old, but was minutes too late. I don't know their pain first-hand and I have not been in their shoes. I don't know their trauma. But I know my own pain. I know my own trauma. I think about these people, real life people, real life trauma, and the horrific things that they've experienced and the tears pump out even faster and harder. I don't do this to re-traumatize myself, I do it to re-connect to my pain so that I can connect with theirs. Because I think the place of pain is a place shared by the whole of humanity, a point of connection in a world of differences.

There's a reason that even those removed from the situation hear this news and we feel things, real raw things like rage, sadness, fear, and despair. We may not know anyone anywhere near this shooting and yet if we pause and take it in, we feel things. Because it touches a place in us that we all have, a place that holds pain and grief. We've all experienced loss in some way in our lives. Whether it's the loss of a person, or a job, or a dream, or the loss of innocence or safety, loss is loss, and we all know it to some extent. And loss is a strange beast, we all experience it differently and we all navigate it in our own unique way. And loss comes in waves, much like the tide, in and out. At bay one minute, crashing down on us the next. Yet there are no tide charts for grief, we don't know when it's coming or going, it just comes. And I think the tragedies like the one at Arapahoe HS today, the ones that we've become far too familiar with, touch a place of loss in us, as if removing the wall of a dam, allowing the waters of grief to once again barrel towards us, overwhelming our souls. And some respond to it by crying, others feel a deep sense of despair and hopelessness, some turn to prayer, grunting out the rawest of emotions, some feel anger and want desperately to place the blame somewhere, anywhere. Some take action, in any way they can, in direct defiance of the feelings of powerlessness that grief can so quickly effect.

We all do grief differently. And sometimes we wonder, "why is that person so upset by this? He didn't even know anyone at that school." Because that's not what the pain is about. Because when we see tragedy, be it near or far, personal or not, it touches a place in us, and has an uncanny ability to connect us to our own pain, our own loss. And one might at first think, "well that sucks. I don't want to feel pain. I'm going to do everything possible to avoid THAT." But what if we let it connect us to our own pain? And what if we let that pain connect us to each other? What if as we passed people in the grocery store, on the street, at our workplace, in our home, what if we recognized them, no matter how glammed up their Facebook timeline might be, as people what have known loss, and pain, and brokenness? How might that change how we see each other? Maybe it would simply allow us TO see each other. To really see each other. Maybe it would soften us and our responses to one another. Maybe if we allowed ourselves to see and feel a connection with people at the point of pain, we could then hold space for each other, safe space to let pain out instead of burying it deep within. What if we met pain with love, not answers, not judgment, not ignorance, just loving space to hold the pain.

This may sound like shrink talk to you. I admit, it does sound a little warm and fuzzy. Except that I've seen it work. powerfully. I've seen people hold space for each other and for me, allowing the raw discomfort of pain to emerge, only to be met with love, and thus transformed into hope and healing. I've known it first-hand. I've known how tremendously powerful it can be to have someone see through my anger or cynicism or sharp words, only to recognize the pain in me, coming out sideways. And to have that met with love and space in which I could freely kick at the walls of my pain until it bled light, wow, that has been powerful. Because of those people I have known healing. I ultimately credit the healing to my Maker, but I believe that those people were in my life for a reason and acted as vessels of healing, and for that I am so grateful.

So, I am not saying, that in response to this or any other tragedy that we shouldn't DO things, like work to pass laws, or increase funding for mental health, or improve safety protocols. I guess I'm just saying that I think we have more power to affect change than we realize. The opportunity is right there in front of us, in every interaction we have. You might be angry at me for saying this, and that's ok, but I really don't think that stricter gun laws or greater access to mental health or arming our teachers with guns is going to cut it. It may help or may not help things or prevent some tragedies. But when people are broken and in pain, the pain is going to come out somehow, some way. So what if we started by looking around us, pausing to see, really notice and see the people right in front of us? And what if we connected at the point of brokenness and pain, armed with time, space and a love that wins? This is just as much a challenge to me as to anyone, but what if???