I heard the news of Friday’s shooting while standing in my front yard, waiting for my kids to walk home from school. I consciously decided not to turn on the TV or the radio that day or for the rest of the weekend. This is why:
On September 11, 2001, I had just arrived at work, a small office in Back Bay, Boston. The office was quiet and I was taking a few minutes to settle in when the buzz of a ringing phone cut through the room. It was my step-dad. “I don’t want to scare you, but have you heard from your sister today?” “No, why?” “I think you should turn on your TV and call your sister.” I hung up with him, then did as he suggested. Just as I flipped on the tiny black and white monitor, I saw the second plane plunge. I frantically called my sister, only to hear, “I’m sorry, all circuits are busy. Please try again later.” I got this recording non-stop for I don’t know how long. Eventually, my sister called and said she was fine, on a train home from Battery Park and surrounded by ash-covered New Yorkers.
I looked out my office window and saw the Prudential Tower standing tall over my Newbury Street office. I picked up my keys and got the hell out of there. Walking home, I saw a girl my age sitting on the stoop of her building, bawling, screaming into her cell phone, “No! No! No!” It was awful. I stared. Witnessing someone experiencing tragedy is conflicting. My humanness drew me into her. I rubbernecked. I thought, Am I going to be screaming on my own stoop later today? I picked up my pace and double-timed it home. I called my (at the time) fiance and begged him to come home.
When he arrived we both sat on the couch and watched CNN for hours. Watching the planes crash over and over and over and over… I cried for weeks, continually watching those planes crash over and over and over and over… I was insatiable. The tears, the mourning, the sadness, the tragedy, the WHY? WHY? WHY? It was sickly irresistible to me. And it really fucked me up. I think it fucked a lot of us up. Depression spread across America like the plague.
I liken watching 24 hour news coverage to the incessant conversation that occupies our minds. The practice of meditation provides us with opportunities to quiet our minds and hush the nagging, rambling voice that precipitates tangled emotions like worry, fear, anger, judgment, grief. In order to do this, we need to quiet down, turn off the noise. And once we discipline ourselves enough to turn off the noise, we can find some peace. It’s the same with news. We need to turn it off. Give ourselves a chance to recover from experiencing the horrific, bizarre, disturbing events of Friday.
We do not need to watch the folks in Newtown, Connecticut mourn. We know they’re mourning. We do not need to attempt to bear their pain in order to understand that what happened to this community is terribly wrong. We do not need to absorb every sound bite, be abreast of every development, stare into the face of every lost child, scrutinize the tortured shooter’s soul. Nothing good will come of it. It’ll only scare us, depress us, separate us from life and exploit those who are suffering intimately.
It is important for those not directly involved to return to normalcy and to start working on mindful solutions.
There are a few things that immediately strike me when my mind turns towards healing and solutions.
The obvious is strict gun control. Not stricter. Strict. There have been about 4,000 articles written on this subject over the past two days so I won’t delve into the bullshit laws (or lack thereof) on gun control. I don’t understand why young children are encouraged by parents to shoot, even at target ranges. Guns are cool? Guns are fun? I don’t know about that. Motown is cool. Scrabble is fun. Parents need to encourage their kids to engage in more wholesome activities.
Another thing that comes to mind is the fact that young boys spend hours with their faces in a computer playing graphic, violent video games. Think about the way we feel after watching hours of horrific news coverage. We become deeply, emotionally affected. Children and teens, especially boys, wrap themselves in gaming for endless hours. They are absolutely internalizing, or at the very least normalizing, the act of pumping bodies full of bullets in bloody battle scenes. While playing, they are isolated from real people and focused intently on viciously blowing virtual people up for hours on end. Desensitization. Fine for military training, not fine for 15 year old boys. Look what happens to our soldiers when they come back from war: PTSD, suicide, alcoholism, abuse. Real war is not fun. Real battle is not cool. Why attempt to make it fun or cool through children’s games? These video games need to be banned. Or at least monitored. Until that happens (which it won’t), a viable option for parents to consider may be making kids earn gaming time through compassionate community service. Volunteer in the community center for an hour, play your sick and twisted game for an hour. At least it’s an attempt at balance. Sorry, boys.
Some people will agree with this next one and some people will roll their eyes, but we need to actively teach our children compassion and mindfulness. Formally. In schools. Every day there is more and more scientific evidence that a regular meditation practice helps children to make better choices, feel better about themselves and perform better in school, amongst other things. Knowing how valuable meditation is for a human’s existence, why wouldn’t we want to incorporate this practice into the school day? I’m not talking about infusing prayer or religious practice in school (though I honestly wouldn’t mind that). There is real science that supports the benefits of meditation. HHDL is pushing for this actively. Being the righteous bomb that he is, I’m all too happy to lend my support.
But, while we’re on the subject, I can’t help but notice that Sunday mornings just ain’t what they used to be. When I was a kid, Sundays were reserved for family and church. My parents never took us to church, but I always remember Sunday mornings as feeling inexplicably peaceful, which from my adult perspective makes sense. There’s a natural and palpable energy that results when large groups of people pray simultaneously. Now parents are forced to choose between church (or whatever) and organized sports.
I was interviewing a local priest last week for a story I’m working and he said that there used to be a gentlemen’s agreement in the community regarding Sunday mornings. Somewhere along the way that agreement disappeared and play took precedent over prayer. While this is not necessarily the reason for this modern youthful meltdown, it’s certainly notable. There’s plenty of time for TV, competition, bickering, playdates, video games throughout the week… could we reinstitute Sunday mornings?
Kids can’t do this on their own. They need our help. They need adults in their lives who can model wholesome behavior, who can engage with them, who can offer them guidance and hope, who can encourage laughter and joy, who can answer big questions about life with openness and love.
We need to ask ourselves, “What can I do? How can I make this community a better place? If not me, who? If not here, where? If not now, when?”
From mine to yours,
There are a hundred other factors that go into these recurring American tragedies – a major one being mental illness. These are just a few that were in my head today. If you’d like to offer solution-based thoughts, please do so in the comments below.