Feel what you need to
You can be heartbroken and grateful at the same time.
The world feels so very heavy right now. Heaviness upon heaviness.
Can it get worse? The answer always seems to be a clear-cut yes. Can it get better? The answer is never as clear. Broken systems, corrupt leaders, myopia, and greed stand in the way of things improving. Because better is harder, we keep hurtling towards worse.
I learned about the Texas elementary school shooting yesterday afternoon. I was in our living room, playing with my 19-month-old daughter. We were coloring together. She was drawing line after line, I was writing messages like, “I love you” in between the scribbles.
When I heard about the children and teachers who had died, I started to cry. I looked down at the paper below us. I love you. Words of warmth and protection, surrounded by chaotic noise. It’s what the world felt like. At that moment, my toddler and I were safe, drawing together in the comfort of our living room. She was happy—oblivious to the outside world. I was heartbroken—hungry to scoop her soft little body into my arms, to protect her from the chaos.
Soon after, our family had dinner together. Billy and I spoke a little about how shattered we felt—how school shootings feel even heavier (it can get heavier!) when you have a child of your own. Mostly, though, we let our happy girl lead the way. She banged her fork on her high chair, made some silly faces, and squealed with delight when we copied her gestures.
Wise people say that all we have is now. If all we had was this moment, it was a good one.
After dinner, a friend called. We’d seen him the day before, on his birthday. We asked him to test for COVID before coming over. I know it’s a pain, I texted him. We’re still extra cautious without vaccines available for the littlest ones. It’s no big deal, he replied. He tested negative and we spent the morning indoors, watching the rain outside through the window.
But now our friend was calling to share that he had COVID, to warn us that we may have been infected, too.
Can it get worse?
Right now, things are fine. If we have COVID, we don’t know it yet. Billy and I are taking breaks from the news, reminding each other that it’s healthy to feel the sadness. Our daughter is bouncing around the house, pausing every so often at her drawing pad to color more lines.
I want so badly to say that things will be okay. That they will get better. That this is rock-bottom and there’s nowhere to go but up. But I know that’s not true. I don’t have the words of reassurance we are all so desperate for.
What I will tell you is that it is healthy and normal to feel the sadness of this moment. It is healthy and normal to feel angry, frustrated, and hopeless. It is healthy and normal to be distracted, to have trouble focusing on your work or whatever task is at hand right now.
All too often, we push away our feelings. We berate ourselves for feeling down. We distract ourselves with technology, food, or an argument about something entirely different because all of those things seem easier than sitting with our pain. But denying our feelings gets us nowhere.
All I can offer is permission. Allow yourself to feel sad today—to mourn for the families experiencing such unimaginable pain. At the same time, allow yourself to feel gratitude—to give thanks that you are not currently experiencing pain of that magnitude. At this moment, you are safe.
I love you. The world is chaotic. It’s scary. Sometimes it feels like it gets worse and worse. But there is always love. There is almost always a safe space to land. There is always someone feeling the hurt and sadness alongside you.
Take care of yourselves today, friends. Feel whatever you need to.
p.s. After I published this, a thoughtful reader kindly pointed out that—given how many mass shootings there have been in the U.S., especially lately—it’s possible that someone affected by this kind of loss might read my words. In that case, my encouragement to be grateful that you’re not feeling extreme pain wouldn’t apply.
If you are in that unimaginable place, I am so very sorry. I know it feels like your country has failed you. It has. There are also so many of us standing with you, mourning with you, and furious with you about all of our country’s failings. We see you and we are utterly heartbroken for you.
Feel whatever you need to.