Late Sunday night, Stephen Paddock opened fire on a crowd of 22,000 country music festival attendees from the 32nd floor of Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. Today, Tom Petty died. Tomorrow, some new horror will play out on the evening news.
I think back to September 11, 2001. I think that day was the last time I outwardly grieved over a story in the news. There have been many stories since then that have made me sad and angry, and even made me cry.
I grieved for James Foley. I grieved for the 5 year old son of Officer Goforth in his Captain America tee shirt. I mourned little Alan Kurdi face down on the beach. I have cried tears of anger against ISIS and their despicable crimes, and prayed that God would wipe them off the face of the earth.
Yet, there comes a time when you read the news, and you are numb. You know you should feel sad – and maybe you do feel sad – but you worry that you do not feel sad enough. You do not feel that horror and shock you felt as you watched the second plane disappear into the second tower.
What has changed? We have become used to evil.
As if on cue, the media does their morbid dance, publishing graphic photos, dissecting the lives of victims, and interviewing the neighbor of the brother-in-law of the shooter’s second cousin who says, “He was just a normal quiet guy. We never saw this coming.”
People post their unauthentic obligatory statuses on Facebook and Tweet out sad-face emojis, because we’re supposed to feel … something.
We’re supposed to be shaken. We’re supposed to be shocked.
Instead, we post asinine quips like, “What a Monday.” We politicize the death of nearly 60 husbands, wives, parents, and children with gun control tirades and Trump bashing rants, as if any of that comes close to quantifying the level of evil on grotesque display in Las Vegas right now.
We have grown used to evil. We have become adept at passing the emotional buck. We have learned to disassociate and deflect and deny. Blame guns. Blame the president. Blame country music. Blame Obama. Blame ISIS. Blame the hotel maid. Blame video games. Blame mental illness. Blame anyone or anything you can rather than face the fact that you feel nothing, and that scares the hell out of you.
Here is the difficult yet simplistic truth. When you’ve faced too many sorrows, too many horrific news stories, and too many heartbreaking tragedies, your brain turns the volume down on your emotions.
This doesn’t mean you’re a sociopath. It doesn’t even mean you’re an uncaring person. It means that in order to get through your day, in order to live life without slumping into depression, you have developed a partial immunity to sorrow. Your heart has grown callouses.
This does not mean you won’t grieve at all. You may grieve mildly every day for a week, rather than all at once like you used to. You may mourn one tragedy at a time, a little peice at a time, instead of simultaneously.
There may be too much confusion and sorrow to process all at once without breaking down. Your brain will digest it in increments, and your emotional metabolism might feel awkwardly delayed.
Be aware that not everyone grieves in the same way. Just because you’re not flooding your friends’ timelines with Tom Petty lyrics or #PrayForLasVegas memes, doesn’t mean you’re defective or emotionally MIA.
It is entirely possible to honor and respect those who have lost their lives without losing your cool online.
Sometimes, the best thing you can do for someone who has died, is to hug your children, knowing that they’ll never hug theirs again. Sometimes, saying a prayer for the loved ones of those lost is really all you can do.
Do not fault yourself for feeling cold in a cold world. While sadness may make us weep, it may also make us thoughtful and contemplative. This is merely a different mode of grieving. Anger may make us stoic, and overwhelm may trigger the noise gate on our hearts.
Contemplate the hand of God in your life, and pray for those who see His face today. Regardless of how you feel, or how you don’t feel, and however you process those emotions or lack thereof, the first step toward healing and feeling again is relinquishing control, and giving it all to God.
Forcing your emotions to look and feel the way society expects, desperately expressing emotions-you-wish-you-had with hashtags and shallow platitudes, or simply standing in the background worrying what’s wrong with you, is a hallmark symptom that you’re trying too hard to control what you simply can’t. Let your feelings simply be. Grieve in your own way in your own time. Know that you are not alone. We are all here together in a cold dark world, and even the strongest among us will grow weary of suffering.
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
— Psalm 63:1
For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.
— 2 Corinthians 1:8b-11