We-all-know-were-goingFor 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.

Stop and Think

Once when I was about twelve years old I saw a group of kids huddled around a bucket in a courtyard I was passing on my way home from school. Some of the kids were younger than I was, and a few were older, or at least bigger. Some of them were laughing, some were just staring, and a couple looked scared. The biggest one, a boy, was holding a broom upside down, and thrusting the end of it into the bucket over and over again. There was something squealing in the bucket, and I found myself walking over without thinking about it. Some of the smaller kids saw me coming and took off, but the boy with the broom had his back to me, and didn’t notice me until I was right up next to him, peering over the edge of the bucket at a small, white, terrified mouse. It was covered in some kind of powder that smelled like bleach. “What are you doing??!!” I asked him, shocked. He stared at me, and so did the other kids who were still there, frozen. “I don’t know, ” he finally mumbled. “We found this mouse and didn’t know what to do with it.” He looked horrified and embarrassed, but he said, “Fine, you take it,” which I did, bucket and all.

There’s so much I could say about the cycle of violence and abuse. Hurt people hurt people, as the saying goes. If the people who were meant to love, nurture and protect you, didn’t, due to their own limitations or history of abuse, that’s a wound that needs healing. Few things feel worse than the belief that you are somehow not lovable or that you don’t matter, that you’re invisible. Most people experience times when they feel like that mouse. Terrified and alone and confused, trapped and running in circles, shrieking for help, the end of a broom handle coming at them without any cause. Grief and loss can feel that way. The why of it can strip a person down to her bones. You might believe in karma. You might think everything happens for a reason, or we choose the experiences we need for the evolution of our souls, or we arrive here with debts to pay from past lives. You may believe in chaos theory, in the butterfly effect, or that we turn to worm-food when we die and that’s that. You may think you create your reality with your thoughts. It doesn’t really matter. You’re a human being, and when you experience devastating loss, violence or the kind of pain that makes it hard to breathe in and breathe out, it becomes obvious that we are all equally vulnerable. People cling to beliefs as if they’re shields. If I’m a good person and I do good things, I’ll be rewarded, but life doesn’t work that way, as any number of good people can tell you. Sometimes horrendous things happen to the most beautiful human beings.

We want to believe we can control things, and that our good behavior will guarantee us freedom from suffering. There’s no such contract. You will lose people you love beyond words simply because you’re a person with an expiration date and so is everyone else, and then there’s all the stuff that life brings. The fact is, we need each other. We come into this world needing to be held and fed and cared for, and that need for connection doesn’t end when we learn to walk and can feed ourselves. The joy in life comes out of love. If you didn’t have a foundation of love, you can create one for yourself, but it takes time and work and a willingness to sit with all your pain until the heat of it dissipates. You may need some help with that. You don’t have to repeat what you know, especially if what you know breaks your heart; you can learn something else. You have a choice in life, you can be the person with the broom, or you can be the person taking it away. I believe we all come into the world as people who’d take the broom and save the mouse. I think we all come from love, but if you were taught fear and pain and that people will hurt you and life will hurt you and you cannot trust anyone, then you really need to unlearn that because it isn’t true. If you learned that you are not lovable or that your feelings don’t matter, you need to unlearn that as well, because those are also lies. No one owns you and your past doesn’t own you, either, unless you let it. We belong to each other, but it’s the kind of belonging that’s based on absolute freedom.

It’s my belief that you’re here for a reason. The odds that you are the only you in a world of seven billion people and it’s some kind of accident or coincidence seem extremely low to me. I believe you have a particular song to sing, and that if you fail to sing it, the world is robbed of a beauty it can’t create any other way. Your song may be buried under rage, grief and disappointment in which case it’s your job to start digging for yourself, for your own peace and freedom, and for all the people in your life.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

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