For me, like so many others, this is always going to be a day of remembering. I was born and raised in NYC, and there that morning, thirteen years ago. And I can remember every detail, including every minute of the four and a half hours we didn’t know if my stepdad was okay (he was), because he worked in the World Trade Center, and all the phone lines in the city went dead. But I don’t want to talk about the specifics. I’ve done that before. I want to talk about what it’s like to be shocked by violence, because so many people in the world right now are living that experience every day.
You might not have had an idyllic childhood. Maybe you lost your innocence too soon. Maybe burdens were placed upon you at an early age, or you had to take the role of parenting your parents, or you saw and heard things no child should have to see or hear. That’s one way of being stripped of your innocence. Once you know something, you can’t not know it. And it’s the same when we’re shocked as a people, as a culture. I believe we all thought we were invincible in that way, that we were the super-cop of the world, that we were impervious to violation. But because of the way we’ve set things up, no one is immune. And no one is innocent. When we turn our backs, we aren’t innocent. We have a cultural idea that only the strongest survive, and that we have to compete if we want to succeed. We have lots of ideas that have led us to where we find ourselves today, with too many innocent children dying, too many parents grieving in the streets, too many people suffering.
How it is within us, is how it is around us. If you’re filled with love, you’re going to spread love. If you’re filled with pain or rage, so too, you’re going to spread those things. Anything we see around us is a reflection of something that exists within us, either personally, or culturally. This is why I believe it’s essential that each of us does the healing and the work to make the worlds within us loving and peaceful places to be. Of course that makes each of our individual lives easier and happier and more fulfilling, but it’s also a gift we give to each other. We love to blame “society’ for its ills, but society is made up of human beings.
There are some people who will never do this work. They’re too far gone. Rage has infected their hearts and eaten their brains and made them capable of inhumane thinking and actions. So be it. But that’s a small percentage of the human population. And I have no doubt that if the large majority of us got to work doing a better job of finding peace and steadiness within, we’d begin to do a great job of spreading that around. It’s not the tiny percentage of violent extremists who pose the biggest threat to our well-being. It’s the huge percentage of people who numb out so they don’t have to feel the pain of being human. Because it is painful. It’s also incredibly beautiful. It’s wildly interesting and unpredictable. You never know what’s going to happen from day to day, and you can let that reality terrify you or inspire you to live fully. We’re afraid of pain. We’re averse to discomfort, let alone suffering. But we’re all going to suffer to some degree or another, and we’re all vulnerable. It’s not a level playing field as far as what happens. Some people are born with amazing advantages. Some people endure knifing, piercing losses that make you wonder how they’re going to move forward. But as far as vulnerability goes, we all get the same parameters. We’re all going to die at some point. We all have an incredible capacity to love. Everyone we love will die eventually. We don’t know how long we have, we don’t know how long they have, we don’t know what happens after this. Welcome to the human race, these are the rules of this game. How we live up to them is what defines us.
When you numb out, you turn your back on your own precious heart, and the hearts of all the people who hold you near and dear, but you also turn your back on your place in the whole. You turn your back on all your brothers and sisters. Because as far as I’m concerned, we are one huge family living on one planet. We have some members who are bat-sh&t crazy and full of venom, and there’s no denying that. But most of our family members are decent people with beautiful hearts struggling to manage their own vulnerability and fear. And we could help each other so much by simply acknowledging that.
We don’t need more people who feel alienated and alone, we need more connection, empathy, compassion and understanding. We need that individually, and we need that as a people. Everything you do, matters. You’re an energetic being, and you spread and take in energy wherever you go. The more accountable each of us is for the energy we’re spreading, the more we mindfully try to up the happiness quotient of the world around us with our small actions every day, the more we contribute to a better and more loving world. So don’t underestimate your own power. You’re one of seven billion people, and you’re completely unique. You have a spark to offer that only you can. But if enough sparks come together, we have a raging, burning fire of love we can let loose together. And I really believe the time is now. We don’t have time to keep feeding the old story of us versus them. We need to be a we. Sending you love, and sending extra love out there to anyone who’s lost a family member to an act of violence.