Put on the brakes for just a second. A terrible, terrible thing has just happened, and right now we want to be angry and we want to know who to blame and we want to enact laws and file lawsuits, but there will be time for that soon enough.
Right now, as is the nature of the universe, this tribulation has also provided us with an opportunity.
Look around you. Look at the other people around you, or on the T.V., or on the internet, or wherever.
Don’t you feel just a little more connected to them today? Do you care as much whether they are Republican or Democrat, Muslim or Jew, Christian or atheist, white or black, gay or straight? Do you care how much money they make or what they do for a living? You don’t, do you? Notice this. Notice this now! Feel it. This is what it means to be human. We tend to forget this. We are too eager to define ourselves by how we are different from one another, when the fact is we are all of us connected.
Sometimes it takes something big to happen for us to see it, but, fundamentally, we know it’s true. We are each of us connected to those families, those victims, the police who responded, the campus staff who made decisions we’d all like to second-guess, and, most importantly, we are all connected to that young man, whether we like to think so or not. We can call him a “monster” or a “coward” all we want, and we will because it makes us feel separate from him. We know that we aren’t, though. We’ve all felt angry and helpless and alone on some level. I’m not saying that we should excuse his choices or his actions, by any means, but I think we ought to recognize that he’s one of us.
We all carry hurt around with us. We have our “lists” of “should have’s” and “ought to’s” that eat away at us on the inside. The “wrongs” that we bear in our lives bubble just beneath the surface. Would most of us do what this young man did? No, probably not, but haven't we all done or said things that we regret?
What happened yesterday is an extreme and tragic case, but is it any different than flashing our high beams at somebody who cut us off on I-25 or snapping at the check-out clerk who charged us twice for the avocados? At the basic level, no, it isn’t any different. We could have chosen better responses as well.
I am easily as guilty of this as anyone. I have a long list of people (specifically and generally) who really irritate me. I could not feel any less connected to these people 99% of the time. However, on days like yesterday and today, it’s a lot harder for me to remember why that is. I know that in a couple of days I’ll remember. Someone’s cell phone will go off in the theatre, and it will all come rushing back to me.
I sort of wish it wouldn’t. It may make for less-humorous blog entries, but I might just live longer, or at least better. I would like to retain this feeling of connectedness also on days that are not filled with tragedy, anger, fear, or helplessness.
So today I will notice this feeling. Today I will recognize that I am not separate from the rest of the world. Maybe, if I pay very close attention, I can remember in a few weeks what it feels like to be less selfish, less bull-headed, less supercilious (yeah, that one will be hard), and less agitated.
Maybe we all can.
Imagine what that would be like.