Hard Conversations

For perhaps the 100th time in the past few years, yesterday I had to sit down with my children and have a hard conversation. They are 13 and 10 now, too old to avoid the major news. I remember trying to explain the earthquake, the pandemic, and the murders of George Floyd and Breanna Taylor and the epidemic of police violence. I remember trying to explain the Supreme Court, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the presidency of Donald Trump, and the anti-gay and anti-trans legislation happening in various states that might impact our family. Fucking global warming. But yesterday’s conversation was the hardest one of all.

Before the pandemic, gun violence seemed to be a weekly, almost daily trend. Stories of people killed by guns were so common that I formed a very special place of numbness within me in response. But even back then, three types of stories would break down my barriers and really affect me emotionally. 1. When large groups were attacked. (The Las Vegas concert shooting still haunts me. And the Pulse massacre… I can’t.) 2. When someone is attacked out of hate. (The stories of elderly black citizens killed in churches and grocery stores, every time a transgender woman is murdered, the stories of Asian-Americans being harmed on the streets…) 3. And the children. Especially the children. Anytime a child is attacked, I’m no longer rational. And there seem to be those out there who are determined to harm our kids because they know it will have the widest audience.

And so I had to tell me children the story. I knew they’d hear about it at school. How do I tell them just enough information to keep them informed while still leaving them feeling safe to go to school? (How do I absorb just enough information myself without feeling like I’m drowning in horrible details). They are supposed to feel safe always, but especially at home and at school. I can teach them not to run into the road or to talk to strangers, but how do I possibly warn them about this?

Two stories in two weeks. Two 18 year old boys posting online about their intended violence and then driving to a place with assault rifles that they legally purchased and barricading themselves in with a room full of vulnerable people and killing as many as they can. The thought of those kids sitting in there and studying math right after recess and snacks, their plans to be picked up by their parents right after school, their dreams about the coming summer vacation– a stranger walks into the room, blocks the door, and opens fire. I can’t. I can’t process it. I can’t.

And so I told my kids the basics. In a small school in a small town far away, a man went into the school with a gun and killed a lot of people. I told them I didn’t want them to have too much information because it is really sad, but told them they were probably going to hear kids talking about it. I reinforced they can share anything with me, and I asked how they were feeling and if there was anything they might want to talk about. They said they were sad but okay, and then went on with their days.

And that was the part that broke my heart. I gave them a piece of devastating news and they just absorbed it and walked away, no big deal. Either they have similarly taught themselves to go numb, or they can’t process the information, or they have already had so much bad news in their lives that this just feels inconsequential because it happened to people they don’t know and as long as it doesn’t happen to me, I don’t have to let it affect me. I don’t know which of those scenarios is the worst, but they all scare me.

Each generation seems to have the same problem in assuming that the world should be better than the way it was the generation before us. How is it we are still dealing with mass murders? How is it we are still dealing with the invasions of countries? How is it we are still dealing with sexism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia? How is this a world where stories like this happen? Don’t people learn from history? How are we still here?

On my podcast (Graymalkin Lane), I recently had the chance to interview the writer Ann Nocenti. During our conversation, she referenced all the times she felt despair in her life, from the Civil Rights Movement and subsequent student uprisings against the government during Viet Nam (a time where police used extreme violence against protestors for peaceful assembly) to the threat of nuclear armageddon (part of national policies to support American ventures against communism) to the AIDS crisis itself (where gay men died by the thousands while the government ignored them). There are a thousand thousand stories told before this, during this, after this, that inspired rage and pain and loss among society, and afterward nothing happened. People got used to their outrages and they got tired of hoping for change, so they went about their lives and time passed and new problems arose and another generation started.

And now here we are. Often when I right, I have a goal in mind. I have something to process, something to work out. But today, I don’t. I feel exhausted. Overwhelmed. I’m not even going to edit this blog post (my first in ages), I just want the overwhelming emotion and confusion to stay here. To be here as a time-stated witness of how awful all of this feels.

The world moves so much faster now. The news is never-ending. We can’t process one terrible story without four more hitting us across the face. How do we possibly stay well and out of the constant trauma? I can’t remember what happened a month ago. It’s relentless, this grief we are living with. There are so many of us now, and I want to believe we can get better but I worry that the best I can do is get by. Plan for this month with no assurance of a future in place. God, the economy and housing market alone. I can’t.

What will it take to change? History is viewed in years at a time. We think of World War II now as one big event. We forget the years of build-up, the individual freedoms and lives lost, the entire changing of country borders and history events. We think of concentration camps and Hitler and D-Day and the Berlin Wall and forget the rest. How will this time be viewed? What will these years look like? And will the vantage we view it from be any better than the one we have now?

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