These are strange and confusing times we’re living in. It has never been an easy thing to be human. Solitude is hard. Intimacy is hard. Not knowing how long we have here, how long our loved ones have, or what happens after this—these are all difficult parameters to deal with. We tend to be a violent species, and you have only to look back in history if you need verification. As we’ve evolved, so have our tools of destruction. As we’ve grown as a society, we’ve fed this violent undercurrent to such a degree that when our boys reach puberty, if they’re angry, if they feel alienated, isolated, insecure, different from their peers, different from all the images they see on television and at the movies (and what teenagers don’t feel some, if not all of these things?), there are so many channels open to them where they can go with their rage and their pain.
Our girls and women are just as confused and hurt, but tend not to be as violent. Deepak Chopra was recently on Conan O’Brien advocating for more women in politics. He said in general, the mantra of men is “f&ck it, or kill it”, and that we need our nurturers to come and balance things out. Of course that’s a generalization. There are plenty of kind, thoughtful, sensitive, intelligent men who have way more than two gears. He was just trying to make a point. You might not listen to Deepak Chopra, and that’s fine. You might think more violence is what we need in order to fix things in our world. It’s your right to believe that and to say that, and it’s my right to disagree, and act on my own beliefs. But our rights are not really the thing to argue about at this moment in time, although everyone gets up in arms (literally) about that. Every right has its limitations. Our world is the thing. Our world, and the way we’re moving through it.
Yesterday my kids, who are six and nine, stayed home from school because of the bomb threat, which people are today calling a hoax. It was a hoax in the sense that no bombs went off yesterday, and the claims in the email were not true. But it was not a hoax in the sense that these are the times we face, where we all believed it could have been true. Mass shootings are so commonplace, we have drills for them in our schools. Yesterday, I thought to myself, “I grew up with snow days, and my children are growing up with bomb threat days”, and I felt sick. And then I thought about how I was going to explain to them why it was they were not in school, without making them feel afraid to be in this world.
It’s hard not to despair. We’re so polarized, and we have little faith in our government and our politicians. We think to ourselves, “the system is broken, the politicians are owned by lobbyists and corporations, there’s gridlock in Washington, nothing I say or feel has a shot of making a difference”, and all of those thoughts are so awful, we shrug our shoulders and shake our heads and numb ourselves and buy holiday gifts and hope things will get better. But “things” don’t have to get better, people have to get better. We have to get better.
We’re a violent species, but we’re also capable of incredible empathy. We’re built for connection and shared experiences. We’d all choose a hug over a fist to the face, right? We’ve built pyramids, created the Louvre, The David, The Mona Lisa. We have art within us and vision and unbelievable beauty and brilliance. Whatever you feed will grow and strengthen. If you look around the world and you feel despair and depression, that’s understandable, but it won’t help anything. If you look around the world and focus on the beauty, on the incredible gift of just being here, in this insane and often mind-boggling mystery, that will affect the way you carry yourself and interact with other people, and move through your days.
We have such constricted definitions sometimes. If we love someone, we think that is a good and pretty thing. Love and flowers and running through fields, laughing like we’re in a Viagra commercial. Sometimes love rips your f&cking heart out. Sometimes we love people who don’t know how to love us back. Sometimes loving someone means accepting them as they are, even though it means you have to let them go. Love is not like a Viagra commercial, even at its best. If you want to love, you’d better be ready to get your hands dirty, and work, because that is what’s required.
Grief—we think of people grieving and throwing themselves on a grave, but grief grabs you by the throat in the night so you wake up gasping for air and wonder how to do anything. How to move, how to think, how to go on. Grief comes in waves and knocks you off your feet and pulls you under, and when it’s done with you it might let you up for air, and it might not. In the beginning of a huge loss, there’s barely any time above sea level. It’s not like a Hallmark card.
Peace—you believe in peace and you think of hippies and dandelion crowns and a group of people with long hair singing kumbaya or John Lennon and Yoko Ono in bed, but sometimes peace is getting bludgeoned in the head because you went to protest peacefully and it didn’t go that way. Sometimes peace is ugly and violent and the road to peace is often strewn with bodies of great people, like Martin Luther King, Jr., or Gandhi, neither of whom made perfect husbands, but, my god, the impact they had on this earth and on our collective well-being.
Our civilization is young compared to the rest of the world. We are the teenagers in the midst of many elders, some of whom have screwed things up so badly, we’re all suffering for it. People want to blame the guy in the Oval Office, especially if he isn’t the one they voted for, but the mess we’re in is a good century in the making, it involves both political parties, it involves the religion of money, and a mismanagement of a complex and painful history in the Middle East. Pointing fingers and shouting is a fool’s undertaking. It doesn’t help.
What helps, as far as I can decipher, is trying to stay calm in the midst of this storm. Throwing our hands up, ignoring things, praying for a miracle, digging our heels in over our political differences, none of these things helps one iota. What we see around us is a reflection of what we see within ourselves. Not all of us. There are many, many people who’ve worked hard to cultivate a peaceful inner environment, and that gives me something we need, and something that does help. You know what it is. It’s the opposite of despair, it’s hope. There are good, kind, wonderful, beautiful people in this world who are not closing their eyes to what’s happening, who are not giving up, who are not accepting that this is just the way things are, who do not want their children to be afraid to live in this world.
None of us can look our children in the eye right now and promise them they’re completely safe, but that has always been the case. I do think we’ve reached a summit. I do believe these are sad and scary times. I think we’ve let ourselves run wild for too long. I think we’ve created a society that alienates its men and women, that turns out adults who, by and large, do not know what brings them joy, peace or a sense of meaning. But I also believe more and more people are recognizing we’ve been sold a false bill of goods, that more and more people are understanding happiness and peace come from within, and that they’re passing that information on to their children. Hatred is taught at home, but so is compassion, tolerance, respect, and critical thinking. Try not to despair. Direct your attention to what you can do today to make the world around you a little better. We are all looking for reassurance, for stability, for right effort. None of us wants to live in a world where we wonder if our children are safe at school, at the mall, at a concert. None of us wants to accept mass violence as the norm, and something we can’t change.
Try to trust that there are more good people in the world than angry, hateful ones, because there are. Try to trust that most people have hit their limit, and then some, for the things we’ve been watching on the global stage. Let your heartbreak motivate you to act, to stand up for what you believe in, to participate, to engage, to get your hands dirty with love and grief, so we can unearth joy and trust. Don’t let fear be your bedfellow and constant companion. Believe in the power of one person, you, to have an impact on the world around you, because you do. Trust in that, honor that, and do something good with that. If enough people follow suit, we’ll set this thing right. Sending you so much love, Ally Hamilton