My heart is burdened – not just by a couple of high profile suicides – but those are a portion. My heart is heavy because of where we are as a society. With the increasing frequency of school shootings, high profile suicides, and must heartbreakingly, low profile suicides, I feel like we, as a society, are spiraling out of control. Violence in any form seems to be the norm rather than the exception. What message are we sending our children about our desensitization, our lack of a public outcry, our lack of mobilization? What values are we imparting to future generations when we do not put down our passive acceptance of all things political and stand up for the values we want to embrace as a society? Beyond the masses of fair weather mourners who’s tears dripped into their lattes on their way to Pilates, how connected to high profile victims (of any kind, not just celebrities) are we? Truly? Not to the point that we are moved to take action, which is the troubling part of this equation. The question really is, are we willing to wait until we are those victims, our children are those victims, before we examine the root of the problem? I’m not.
Slow Down and Be Present
Before you decide that you don’t want to read another post about parenting, give me a minute. How many of us get so caught up in office politics and the shear craziness of life that we forget to breathe? I am completely guilty of doing this for way too long. I am so connected to my phone that it is almost another appendage. It has become an extension of my work, home and social lives – all in one. I’m always connected to this thing. At what cost? When I am plugged in to work at all hours, how can I be plugged into my kids? Personally, I can’t – maybe you can. If you have figured it out, let me know! Because I am failing miserably. I recently started to notice how much time I spend on computers, tablets, phones – I even order my groceries on the darn thing! Let’s just say, it’s a lot. I had to ask myself with this last week of suicide notices, am I harming myself by being this tuned in? Would I be happier if I didn’t know all the perfectly crafted things that my friends, even people I follow that I don’t even know are doing/creating/being/experiencing? The answer was a resounding maybe so. What does it say to my kids when I would rather unwind by scrolling through Instagram or facebook than reading a book to them? I didn’t like my own answers to those imagined questions. I thought for a moment how I would feel – I didn’t enjoy the feeling.
Compassion and Empathy
If I am not setting a solid example for them by being present, enjoying their company, talking to them and not just at them, who is? My little ones have also developed a love of their electronics. How do I REALLY know who is setting that example if I am not? Thinking one knows and KNOWING one knows are two very different things. Am I modeling compassion towards others, and towards myself? Do they see love in my actions, hear it in my tones and words? Do they see the need to be kind to everyone, especially those who are lonely, hurting, or different? Do they see me actively making the world a better place? Do they see me taking action when I see an injustice? I like to think so, but maybe I need to slow down and take a closer look?
I gave a dollar to a “homeless, disabled vet” today who was begging on a roadside – both kids were in the car. My oldest, now 9, asked “how do you know he’s homeless or disabled, Mommy?” The answer I gave her is the same one I’ll share with you. “I don’t.” Honestly, what else can you say? The interaction was 30 seconds, including the time it took to read his sign. “I don’t, but does it matter? We have an extra dollar today and he needs it. You never know when you will need that dollar and are depending on someone else to share theirs.” I didn’t think about it until later, but it was worth every penny of that dollar to have my child see me show love and compassion to another person for no reason other than seeing his need. Friends, if I have ever written anything that you remember, remember this – we are failing our children when we do not actively model compassion and empathy. And when we fail them, we fail our future selves.
At the end of the day, what the high profile, recognizable victims of suicide or violence have in common with all of us is their humanity. No, I don’t have Kate Spade’s design talents or Anthony Bourdain’s culinary genius. I never will. But I also don’t have their pain. Money, fans, and possessions didn’t soothe their souls, and it won’t ours either. We all have our crosses to bear, why not be a bit more intentional about noticing those who struggle – because we all have moments when we do. What do we have to lose by teaching our children how to notice, how to HELP those who struggle? A kind word, a lunch table shared, a smile – those things cost us nothing, but could be a treasure to someone in pain.
When did we lose our sense of community and responsibility for the least of us? It is ironic that in an era of extreme connectivity, I have experienced some of my own loneliest moments. I could reach out to so many people that love me, and I know they love me no matter how far away or how long the time since we have spoken, but what seems to touch me the most is when I get the “Hey. Love you.” text from my sister when she doesn’t even know I need it. Am I showing my own children how to be good stewards of their own mental and emotional health, and be good stewards of each other?
I’m waxing a bit philosophical in this post because my heart is heavy. I hurt for any and all people who experience such deep emotional pain that they think the only way to alleviate it is to die. Our society is not one that is supportive of those with mental health issues, and until that stops and we become more capable of empathizing with our neighbors and recognizing when others hurt – then acting by showing compassion, it will not stop.
I have spent a lot of time since the past few school shootings, suicides and incidents, empathizing with those individuals and families, wondering if mental health access or gun control is the answer. While they are a portion, it isn’t all of the answer. We have to be kinder – to ourselves and others. Life is messy. We are imperfect. That’s ok – that’s how it is supposed to be. If it weren’t, what lessons could we learn? I have started to see that there is perfection in those messy imperfect moments when the kids are running and giggling, when my floors are sticky and some laundry still needs to be done. When my smallest tells me he loves me as I change his pants. That is when I am at my most content – work success is great – but it doesn’t complete me. As a matter of fact, it fulfills me less and less as I get older, and as I watch the tinies get older. For me, the answer is for us all to be more intentional in living more gently. Living gently towards myself, towards others, and teaching the tinies to live gently while loving fiercely – themselves most of all.