Silent witness

As a therapist, it is part of my job to sit with people during their trauma and to witness it and then, as much as I can, guide them through it. But at the end of the hour, my job is done. The people that I’m helping have to leave and walk away with their own trauma, living with it on their own. I absorb the pain. I listen. I witness. I validate. I comfort. Then they leave, and I have to find a way to be okay, to be able to move on to the next person. I have to be ready to witness trauma again.

But while I am a therapist at work, and while that is a hat I’m honored to wear, I’m not a therapist in my off hours. I’m a human male with a partner and friends and a family. I read books. I experience history. I watch the news and react emotionally to the stories. While I believe in the strength of people, I sometimes lose faith in the world. This last five years has been rough on me, emotionally and spiritually. I can’t comprehend so much of what is happening, and I don’t now, despite all of my skills, how to even process some of it. I react with pain and emotion, and I try, as much as I can, to be okay at the end of the day just like anybody else.

Some news hits me much more profoundly, on a deep trauma level, than others. The Congressional testimony of Christine Blausey-Ford hit me deeply and painfully. The storming of the Capitol Building left stones in my stomach for days. The video depicting the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police officer Derek Chauvin caused me to weep tears of deep grief. I try to teach other people how to process their pain, but far too often I can’t even process my own.

I can’t rationally comprehend the country I live in sometimes. I can’t understand it. It hurts, in enrages, it aches. I can’t understand how we are still blaming victims of sexual assault for their own assaults. I can’t understand why we are still having conversations about gun violence in a country that is plagued by hate crimes. I can’t understand those who excuse police officers for executing men and women of color, or anyone, when other options were available at all. These hate crimes hit me as hard as the news of mass shootings. I don’t understand how everyone is not up in arms and ready for change. It’s horrifying, and humiliating, and painful. My heart is broken, and I’ve grown numb to the sensation of my heart being broken. It’s been a daily barrage of all of this. I’m exhausted. We are all exhausted.

I am in Columbus, Ohio for a weekend. My hotel room is right down the street from the Capitol building. On my first night here, I walked past a painted mural dedicated to the memories of George Floyd (with the words “I Can’t Breathe!”), Breonna Taylor (“I Can’t Sleep!”), and Ahmaud Armery (“I Can’t Run!”), and the memories of so many others showed up in my head, and the heavy gut-wrenching pain showed up back up in my deep stomach. I don’t know how to sit with pain like that. It just aches. Days before I arrived here, Derek Chauvin was convicted of George Floyd’s murder. Daunte Wright was killed in the same city during the trial. And just after that, right here in Columbus, 16-year old Ma’Khia Bryant was killed by police during a mental health episode.

I stood among a crowd of hundreds, unexpectedly, just outside the capitol in a silent protest. Incredible and eloquent black leaders stood in the middle with megaphones, shouting words of pain and hurt and righteous anger. Armed officers surrounded the building itself. The protest was peaceful, and went long into the night, with marching in the street with cars driving up and down the roads blaring horns. And I wept.

A few years ago, I went to the African American History Museum in Washington D.C. and inside lay the coffin of Emmett Till, a young teenage boy who was killed by white men in the South years ago. They killed the boy because he allegedly whistled at a white woman. The men were arrested, put on trial, and acquitted. It… hurt to view his coffin. It hurt. That’s what this rally felt like.

Over the past several years, I spent untold hours making a documentary about a young man, Gordon Church, who was brutally killed for being gay. There was justice in his case, but researching was far from easy. It hurt as well. That’s what this rally felt like.

I’m aching to build a better world or my sons. I so badly want mass shootings and police killings to end now. I’m tired of aching. Everyone I know is tired of aching. I want a better world. And I want the pain to go away.

I’m tired of hurting.

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