Despair is no longer sufficient

Stock photo

Stock photo

As the news filtered out of Orlando Sunday morning, another mass shooting was playing out in the background. When the 50 dead headline came across my screen mid day, I sat up and took notice and then hung my head, bewildered and anguished. The words “coming apart at the seams” rang through my head; we’re coming apart at the seams. How have we gotten to this point, when some one gets to the point that the only way to express your suffering is rampant destruction?

If I were 20 years younger and lived in an urban area like Orlando, you can bet your ass I’d be there on the dance floor on Latin night closing the place down. I first found my bliss in the ecstatic dance of hippie style jam bands (in some ways the antithesis of a gay bar on Latin night, but bear with me on this), but this was mainly an issue of time and place (late 80’s rural Maine, child of back to lander-ish types, raised on 70’s record albums, surrounded by other children of back to landers—had I been in a city with a vibrant LGBTQ scene I imagine I would have been clubbing with the best of them…). Losing yourself completely in the music, unable to hear the constant stream of judgment that runs 24/7 inside your own head over the ear numbing sound from the speakers, moving with the crowd and participating in group joy, feeling the sound in your body—whether a gay dance club or a Dead show, ecstatic dance is a revelation.

I can picture the exuberance, the perfect moments, the joy of being among your tribe, the joy of finding one another, the joy of giving yourself away and putting yourself at the mercy of the dj, the catharsis of dancing away your cares. It’s not like that every night at the club, but I’m going to imagine Saturday night that way (one survivor did describe the night up until the shooting as “a great night, no drama, just smiles…”). And just because as a straight cis woman I can understand the profound joy that is possible in a gay dance club doesn’t negate the fact that this was a hate crime, against a persecuted minority. So LGBTQ friends I stand with you in as an ally in solidarity, and respect the fact that while there are universal undertones there are parts of this story that are yours alone and can never be mine. I support you and grieve with you.

If you read me regularly you know my story by now; I get sad or confused, I go for a trail run, I feel better. This time was no different. I held Orlando in my heart for 24 hours and still didn’t know how to make it better, so I went for a run in the rain. The phrase hate begets hate kept running through my head as I ran in the woods, wet grass soaking my sneakers and wet leaves slapping my face. I didn’t know how to go further with that idea but I knew it was true. Then the news came out that the shooter was mentally ill, prone to domestic violence, at best a catch all, DIY cobbled together kind of “radical Muslim”, and most tellingly possibly a closeted gay man. I heard an amazing interview on the radio (the transcript to which I can not yet find but when I do I will link it here) with a gay Muslim man who described the self hatred he felt before eventually finding his way out of that dark place. It all clicked then. When we teach people to hate themselves (and by ‘we’ I mean society, religious leaders, advertising campaigns, parents, schools, I mean all of us have a role to play in this), we sow the seeds of this violence.

I am basically a hobbit, I live in a hand made wooden house (though my doors aren’t round) in a place not unlike the Shire. Folk around here like good home grown food, peace and quiet (except when they are shooting their guns or lighting off fireworks) and ale. We like green growing things and hearing the wind in the trees. When the news breaks in I want to retreat to my hobbit hole, my little bubble of rural Maine (yes that bubble includes incredible rates of opioid addiction and child abuse and poverty). I want to tend to my garden and turn off the radio and pretend everything is ok. And that is ok to do, for a while. But not for long. To play the Lord of the Rings analogy out a bit longer than is probably necessary for normal people (SUPER geek alert here), Tolkien called us out on this years ago. Yes, we want to pretend this doesn’t have anything thing to do with us here in the woods, but even at the end of the Lord of the Rings the Shire was scoured and the hobbits enslaved. Trouble comes to us all, especially when we ignore the suffering of others. Stick your head in the sand at your own peril.

How do we solve this problem? Stephen Colbert gives us the simple answer. Whether the story that eventually gets told is about the self hate of a closeted man, or mental illness, or incipient radicalization, or violence as a response to the crushing realization of the chasm between our expectations (fueled by the national story) and our realities, despair is no longer sufficient. “Love is a verb”, and thus requires action. And solving this is going to take a lot of action. Pick a corner and start there, there’s plenty of work to go around.

A year ago we were celebrating the Supreme Court decision on gay marriage (#lovewins). Today I feel a slight edit is in order, an affirmation, and a reminder that there is still work to do (it never ends). #lovewillwin

Sarah O'Malley

About Sarah O'Malley

Sarah is a science educator, naturalist, writer, tide pool fanatic and burgeoning obsessive trail runner. From personal experience she believes strongly in the restorative power of contact with nature, especially experiences that make your heart beat a little faster or get your hands and feet dirty. She lives on the Blue Hill peninsula with her husband and two dogs.