As I drove my 11-year-old son William to his hockey practice last night, he asked me, “Mami, do you worry about my and Jacqui’s safety?” We had just been talking about the mass shooting that had happened a few hours prior, in Oregon. He asked me this question, fittingly, as we were driving past the Newtown, CT exits.
This morning, as I drove my 14-year-old daughter Jacqui to her private, all-girls high school, she asked me, “Why doesn’t the government pass laws that help to prevent these mass shootings?”
I live a few miles from the Sandy Hook Elementary School, where almost 3 years ago, a shooter killed 20 first graders and 6 educators. That day, just like the day of the 1985 Mexico City earthquake (we lived there till 1986), and September 11, 2001 – will forever be etched in my brain. Much of our lives we are on autopilot (yes, even us mindful living advocates), but when something horrific happens we tend to have every sense heightened and our memory has a way of recalling the details of that day. When I learned of the shooting in Oregon yesterday, my body and brain and heart immediately spun into the panic and devastation I felt on 12/14/12, which I know many of us felt, even though we didn’t know, personally, the victims or their families.
Since that day almost 3 years ago, I have met and become friends with several of the parents whose children were murdered. They come to my Poga classes, I help them with their foundations, we socialize, we go to church, we run together. I marvel at their ability to go from waking up every morning, to actually functioning – and not only that, but working their asses off to prevent even one more family from living through the hell that they endure Every. Single. Day. As if the grief of burying your child weren’t enough, imagine the pain and anger and frustration and bewilderment they must feel when on a daily basis, they read messages from people who either claim that Sandy Hook was a hoax, or that even common sense gun control goes against their American rights, or that the mental health system is too messy to try to fix, or that, I’m so sorry but I’m trying my best to change laws but my hands are tied because xyz. Imagine my friends’ visceral reaction every time they learn of a new mass shooting, and their brain immediately takes them back to that day almost 3 years ago, because while we can imagine how awful that was, they KNOW what these families are going through and will go through for the next 3+ years.
It’s easy to say, shit, this is so awful, I feel for those poor families, I’m going to pray for them. We may even be galvanized to write our legislators, to contribute to one of the organizations that are working tirelessly to create change. All of that is great. It is certainly an important part of creating change. But there’s more.
When William asked me that question, I measured my words and then this is what I said: “Every parent is worried about their children. You are the most important part of our lives and when something happens to you it rips us apart. The fact that we have to send you out into a world beyond our control makes us feel very vulnerable and afraid. But I cannot live in fear. I can do my best to minimize the risk of the situations I allow you to be in, but at the end of the day, you are going to make certain choices, others around you will make certain choices, and I can’t control that. Every day, I pray to God, for myself and Papi and you and Jacqui, please use us in any way to do your will, but I ask you to keep us safe. Willo, it’s something I work on every day, the choice not to live in fear. It’s important to me to raise children who are curious about the world, who have a sense of adventure. YOU can be part of the change, but if I choose to over-protect you, hover, and constantly worry about you, then I am just doing you and the world a disfavor.”
To Jacqui, I answered in a less measured, angrier, more raw tone, maybe because I had had more time to get angry, maybe because she’s a very mature 14-year-old and I didn’t feel the need to shield her from the realities of the world (as I see them).
“Jacqui, every time someone runs for office, especially on the state and national level, they have to raise a lot of money. This means that individual donors and special interest groups give candidates money and in return, the expectation is that the candidate will cater to them when they are in office. One of the strongest groups out there is the NRA, and they have a ton of resources that help them tap into people’s fears and convince them that any gun control measure is a threat to the values they hold dearest, such as their right to bear arms, and their individual, private rights in general.
“But, Jacqui, these shootings aren’t just a gun problem. Certainly, access to guns is a big part of the problem, but there’s also the brain health issue, which is really messy because of the stigma associated with brain illness, the lack of access to effective care, the lack of prevention efforts and general awareness.
“But even more than that, there is what I see as a really complicated and profound issue in our country. I LOVE this country. In so many ways I think it’s the best country in the world and I am so very grateful to be a citizen and resident. But we are messed up. I feel like there’s this huge disconnect. People are relying on technology rather than conversation and hugs. On chemicals rather than real food and deep breaths of fresh air. We are all so busy – making money, accumulating stuff, rushing from one task or commitment to the next. And our poor kids – we parents and educators and policy makers are stressing you out with trying to fit you into a box by insisting you learn a certain way, comply with certain standards, and if it’s making you hyper and unfocused, there’s something wrong with you that requires a medical, pharmaceutical, intervention. We want you to have the “best opportunities” so on top of the academic stress, we want you to be great at sports, at music, at community service, and hang out with the “right” people. All of this takes a lot of resources so we don’t travel. We don’t take you to other countries, because it’s too much of a pain in the ass to travel, and it’s too expensive (want braces and an iPhone, or a trip to Italy? Cause we can’t afford it all!), so we are raising kids who are not curious about other cultures. Foreign languages are something to endure, and we start learning them too late anyway so it’s like trying to teach a 45 year old guy with a beer belly to touch his toes. We want to protect you from different people because they scare us, so we keep you in your little suburban bubble and do our best to avoid “bad” areas like Waterbury and Danbury. We go around telling you that we are compassionate, open-minded and we are so very sad for the poor refugees from Syria, but the truth is that our actions show you how we really feel because we prioritize your sports activities and homogenous social circle and comfortable status quo over getting out of our comfort zone and taking you to a refugee center in New Haven to see how we can help. We immediately put people in a box and make assumptions about them based on whether we know or believe them to be a registered Republican or a Democrat; Christian or Jewish or Muslim or Atheist or Other; American or Foreign; Black, Brown, Asian, White or Other; Hetero, Gay, or Other; fat or thin; rich or poor; etc. We think we are the open-minded ones, not realizing that we are all usually closed-minded, yes, even “liberals” because we have our experiences and situations and descendants and the parents we had, and unless something happens to us personally to change our minds, we have a really hard time making the effort to see someone else’s perspective, whether we are part of the "majority" or the "marginalized." So, Jacqui, all of this, the way I see it, is a big part of why we are so messed up and that map is so shocking, with all the mass shootings since Sandy Hook. It is much easier to continue on autopilot and in our silos than to recognize that we are all responsible for the collective mess we are in. Because once we recognize it, it’s on us to start making changes. But you know what? Change is possible. We can and must do all that stuff like writing legislators and supporting organizations. But just as importantly, we parents and other adults need to SHOW you kids how to live in a way that is curious about others, in our community and beyond, and to, no matter what we think the other person’s ideology or value system or reality is about, try to really ask them – and then really LISTEN – to them. Nobody is listening. So, go have a great day at school today, and do me a favor – do your best to go beyond admiring Hunter boots and Lily Pulitzer accessories and learn something about someone that surprises you. Go make a difference. I love you.”
Poor kid probably wishes she could take the bus to school.
When I am in a challenging situation, depending on where I am that day – did I run? Did I do Poga? Did I meditate? Or am I reaching the end of my rope? – I may either give in to my reactive, impulsive instincts, or I may pause and think, what would Jesus do right now? Whether we are Christian or of another faith, or of no faith, I think most of us admire, perhaps even try to emulate, someone living or dead, who went against the grain and created great change in some way. When I consider the state of things in our country and the world, I often think, what would Jesus do right now? I’m not exactly an expert on Scripture, but I do believe that Jesus would not be dismissing people based on their ideologies or ethnicity or faith or lack thereof. (He wouldn't have said, I refuse to do yoga because that Buddha dude did it). And yet, that’s exactly what we do, because it is far easier to make a snap judgment about someone and put them into a box, make all sorts of assumptions about them, and then carry on with our own lives. It is easier to say, if we put ourselves back in Jesus’ time, hey, she’s just a prostitute, a lost cause, making poor choices and justifying her choices because she has no morals. But Jesus, instead, kneeled before her in servitude, and really saw her, and showed her love. When I am in a situation where I can interact with someone who has a profoundly different way of seeing the world from the way I see it, I can make like Jesus and set an intention to be curious and loving, or I can keep on my path and label them as ignorant or too liberal or [fill in the blank, something that makes me feel better about myself] and not bother to engage, and keep taking my family to Disney World because it’s a heck of a lot more predictable and familiar than going somewhere with foreign currency.
These mass shootings are a symptom of the dysfunctional times in which we are living. It is up to each of us to have the courage to accept our responsibility every time a parent buries a child because of a preventable, violent death. It is up to us to ask ourselves the following questions:
Am I leading my children, family, friends, by showing them how to be openly and compassionately curious about others’ points of views and perspectives?
Am I part of the problem because of my own hang-ups, chips on my shoulder, victim identification – the very same traits I reject in my “opponents”?
When was the last time I set an intention and then acted upon it, to reach out to someone that is completely different from what I am used to interacting with?
My devout Christian friends say that the devil is happy when we all separate and disconnect, because when we unite he has no chance. Whether or not you are Christian, whether you follow another faith or at the very least, recognize the power of nature, we humans are wired for connection. We cannot survive without it. So let’s do this, because as I told William last night, I pray that when he’s a dad, he can tell his kids that there was this really dark, violent time in our country when he was a kid but then people started to wake up, and reach out, and find their power, and one family at a time, great change started to happen.
Oh, and if you were reading to this to find out how to lose belly fat, stay tuned. I figured the title would get you to read - thank you for reading! - and I will help you with the belly fat in a future post, promise.
Motivational coach, athlete, mom, entrepreneur. I love helping people mindfully reboot their health & joy.