I read the news today…oh boy.
I think “oh boy” is probably the mildest reaction most people had today at the early morning news that yet another mass shooting had occurred in the US. This time innocent concert goers became the target of a deranged and fearful man. In June of last year when the Pulse shooting here in Orlando was reported to be the deadliest shooting to date in the US, I found myself wondering how long we would hold that devastating and terrifying title. And even more disturbing I found myself assuming it wouldn’t actually be that long. And today, roughly a year and a half later, Las Vegas reluctantly took up that mantle.
Mondays are my house cleaning days, aka: talking to myself days, aka: talking to God days and today I just found myself asking why, over and over again, like a small child who just learned the word and now can’t stop using it. And while no huge, revelatory response came from either the general direction of heaven or the specific direction of my own soul or wisdom, I couldn’t stop thinking about a fascinating fact I had just read this weekend. Get ready for it. It is, of course, from the unbeatable Brene Brown, in her new book Braving the Wilderness. (Buy it now.)
In one of the early chapters of her new book she discusses the prevalence of “sorting” in today’s world. Sorting means the insatiable desire and need for us as humans to align ourselves behind some sort of belief system/opinion/bandwagon and then immediately define who is for us or against us in this great big world. And then immediately vilify those who are against us and glorify those who are on our team, whether we personally know them or not. This obviously isn’t new to humanity but at this particular junction in human history, we are the most polarized, the most sorted and get this, we are also the most lonely.
Yep. Get the book and read it for yourself, but at this time in history living with loneliness is literally killing people.
I have wrestled loneliness often lately. Most days I find myself surrounded by people and yet this past year has been one of the loneliest seasons on record for me and this past decade has been one of the more isolating and secluded in my life thus far. At times this year the loneliness I have felt has been both suffocating and abyss-like. In an act of ultimate irony, the lonelier I felt the further away I pulled from the people who wanted to love me the most. I backed away slowly from most everyone and wrapped myself in a blanket of solitude. I was lonely. I still am lonely!
So what does loneliness have to do with the tragedy that occurred in Las Vegas and this whole sorting thing Brene Brown claims is killing us slowly? They all stem from the same symptom: fear.
When senseless acts of violence occur on the regular, as they appear to be doing now, we physically retreat. We hunker down. We lock the doors and we turn out the lights.
And then when we realize we can’t actually live our lives hunkered down with our Costco survival kits…or when our kids drive us looney tunes…we sort. We emerge from our fortresses and we look for people who think and feel like we do. We link arms. We build bunkers together and we retreat again, but this time with friends and because we have defined friends, we have also defined enemies. We throw bottle rockets from our bunkers at the other bunker on the other hill, waving the different flag.
“Gun control now!”
“Stop murdering babies!”
“(Fill in the blank) lives matter!”
And we get colder. And we sort some more. And more and more. We not only physically retreat, but we emotionally retreat. Until once again, it’s just us in our own individual bunkers, drowning in our own loneliness and fear.
And evil continues to win, because it will win often, sadly enough. And we continue to retreat in every way possible. Because it ain’t all rainbows (see what I did there?)
There is another way.
It is the only thing the mystics and philosophers and artists and musicians have ever seemed to agree on. It is love. The simplicity of it is only grasped in the complexity of what it means to put away the flags and the causes and the picket signs and to walk out of the bunker and towards your fellow man. We have to relearn what political discourse looks like and sounds like. We have to learn to agree to disagree respectfully and safely. We have to embrace love over fear every day of the week. Because love is what eventually backs the terror down.
It sounds easy. It’s not. It requires so much humility and so much trust in Anything greater than you. And most people aren’t sure they want to risk it. But it is not impossible.
When tragedy occurs in Orlando in Las Vegas in London in Texas in Puerto Rico in Israel and Istanbul, it brings with it fear and sorrow and the opportunity to love selflessly and bravely in the midst of being afraid for your life. Put down the picket signs and the bottle rockets and the loneliness and choose love.
A few wise men have proclaimed throughout history that, “All you need is love”. Let’s see if we really believe that.