In the wake of the most recent mass shooting, this time at a nightclub in Thousand Oaks, California, I find myself broken hearted. Again. With no time to heal since the last massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue.
Truthfully, I have not been right since Sandy Hook, and it’s fair to say that the cumulative distress and heartache is taking its toll. I spent every morning of Millie’s first grade year, watching her walk into school through tears. Not because I feared for her safety (I’m realistic about the statistics), but because I imagined what it would be like if this were the last time I saw her alive, and if an hour later she were to be gunned down in her own classroom. Needless to say, school drop-off is filled with a lot of angst for me and continues with Sam as my newest first grader.
We talk a lot about empathy in our Love First program. In a way, that’s the whole thing: to be able to feel what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes makes it easier for us to treat them with love.
Empathy is how we take something like Thousand Oaks, or Sandy Hook, and imagine what it would feel like to be those who are grieving, for example. For anyone with children and a moderate degree of empathy, you might have felt your heart ripped from your body on December 14, 2012. It was hard not to feel like you were being swallowed whole, imagining what it was like for the parents, or for the children in their last moments of life, or the children and teachers who survived.
But it was less natural and less easy – and maybe downright impossible – to imagine what it might have been like for Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook shooter, or Ian Long in yesterday’s shooting. What on Earth does someone have to feel inside to commit such an unspeakable act?
In my last post, I talked about love as an act, not just a feeling. Because loving our neighbor is supposed to look – not just feel – like something. Loving our neighbor will look like helping, paying attention, listening, protecting, advocating. Love as an action is important — even essential. But maybe I went too far to distance love as the action from love as the feeling.
Because for some of our neighbors, they might actually just need to feel loved.
In the aftermath of these shootings, a routine so many of us know by rote, I go through rage and disbelief, followed by shame, heartache, anger, sadness, and disgust.
But after that, I’m left wondering what could have been – or what could have been avoided – if these men felt loved, felt worthwhile, felt like their life mattered.
So if you’re feeling despair because this feels hopeless, then let’s try something in addition to holding our representatives responsible for our safety: go love your neighbor. Love your neighbor who feels invisible or lonely, go love your neighbor who feels lost or forgotten, go love your neighbor who feels ignored or like they don’t matter.
We can love our neighbors a lot faster – and a lot easier – than changing laws, removing leaders, addressing our culture’s obsession with guns, or changing the narrative that owning military artillery should be a right for all of us. Don’t get me wrong; let’s do that too. But if we’ve learned anything, it’s that this is a long haul, and today – at least – none of that is going to change. But you can go love your neighbor.
That’s easy, that’s important. And that makes a difference.