I have a hard time talking about and dealing with tragedies. I hate saying “my thoughts and prayers are with (fill in the affected group/state/person here)” over and over again, especially as it seems to be necessary more often lately. I can’t take away anyone’s pain with those words nor can I take away their pain by mourning their loss for days on end. I often wish the world could stop for families who’ve lost loved ones because it just doesn’t seem fair that the rest of us go on as if nothing happened. I hate social media post-tragedy. I always want to carry on posting but it never feels right and my heart is never in it. I want to hide and feel unhappy on their behalf. Why should I have a great day when they can’t?
Some days I’ve left the news coverage on for hours and allow my mood to deteriorate as every new detail pours in – number of deaths, number of injuries, motives, weapons, interviews with grieving family members. I stand in front of the TV and think to myself, I’m sorry that this happened to you. And then I’m angry that I can’t help these people, these other humans who are hurting in a way I can’t even imagine and then I feel thankful that it wasn’t my family and afterwards I feel selfish for feeling thankful. And on and on until a few days pass and I feel like it’s ok to be happy again.
It took me a number of months – and two specific passages from Jen Sincero’s book You Are a Badass – for me to realize I was going about it all wrong. I can’t help anyone by pausing to grieve with them for an extended period of time. Doing so does nothing for them and nothing for me. If I make money, I can donate money. If I’m successful, I have a better chance of my voice being heard. If I’m happy, I can raise happy children who spread happiness, love and compassion into a world that’s desperate for those very things. If I shut down or stop pursuing my goals or give into the idea that the world just isn’t going to change, I can’t make anything better for anyone.
Days before my grandma passed away last year, we visited her in the hospital and she told me I was going to live a full life. In that moment, I felt how fast it all goes and how precious it all is. I made a vow right then and there to make the most of my life before it was my time to move on too. I forget that vow a lot. The smallness of daily activities clouds the bigger picture, I complain about my first world problems and take things for granted all too often. And then the words “breaking news” appear on my TV screen and I’m reminded once again that someone somewhere no longer has the opportunity that many of us sometimes squander.
So for those of us fortunate enough to be alive, there exists an obligation to not only go about our days but to live full lives. We must live full lives not just because tomorrow isn’t guaranteed for us but because there are people for whom tomorrow is already not an option. Be slow to complain and slower to shout. Be quick to forgive and quicker still to be grateful for everything and everyone in your life. And really, truly, deeply live because each day is an extraordinary privilege.