I live in a country completely engrossed in violence. I’m blessed enough to not have violence in my personal environment, but every time I leave the house, I anticipate that I could enter any plethora of violent scenarios.
We must begin to ask ourselves what living in perpetual violence does to our mental health, how ongoing trauma impacts our well being.
We can turn to overt violent environments, like the war in Ukraine, and see what happens to the human spirit under the ongoing campaign of senseless violence. For some, the spirit rises up and fights back. For others, the spirit retracts in self defense. In all, the spirit frays under the constant duress of heartbreaking and senseless death.
We can’t deny the scale of tragedy in Ukraine right now. I can only imagine what living through such destruction would do to one’s heart. But what I’m exploring in this essay is a more subtle and ongoing war against one another. The violence we allow and inflict upon one another, in a country not at “war” is a stunning and devastating reflection of who we are as a society.
The fact that we Americans allow, ALLOW, gun lobbyists to buy and sell our children’s futures so they can reap gross profits on the fear instilled in a population obsessed with violence is stunning. And devastating. The fact that 90% of the country want sensible gun laws, and I would guess at this point many want to eradicate guns completely, yet 50 old, privileged, white senators in DC want to protect their donors is also a stunning indictment on the reality we’ve created as a country. Which leaves the rest of us to watch in a helpless horror as our communities become target practice for young male racists with serious mental disorders. Every week. Hell, almost every day.
I am constantly appalled at the country I call home. I constantly plot ways to live overseas and not miss my family in a way that makes want to return to this hell hole. Every time I get out of my car to enter the grocery store, I grab my cell phone and make a conscious decision to bring it with me in case I end up in a mass casualty event and have a few seconds to call my family and tell them goodbye. Every time I sit at a coffeeshop and write, which is daily, I scan the door often to see if some angry white Incel is going to enter and shoot the place up. I returned to university this year and I often wonder, while sitting in a classroom, if some angry, broken white male will enter the room and start shooting and I begin to scan for the exits and hiding places.
Why do we live like this? Why do we allow politicians to do absolutely nothing but vote against the safety and security of the people they are charged with voting on behalf of? Is the shopping really that good? Is the entertainment culture really that satisfying?
Are the distractions from reality so beneficial that we allow our children to take the bullets that our politicians are too weak to stop?
Are we really that broken that we can’t see what guns and polarization are doing to this country? Are we really so blind that we can not and WILL NOT protect the children we love so dearly? Are we really so tired, broke and exhausted that we’re OK with allowing less than a third of this country, filled with ignorance, hatred and violence, to attack our children, women, BIPOC and LGBTQ communities each and every day and deny us our inalienable rights to simply live and breathe the same as them?
I’ve learned many new tools in my yogic and Buddhadharma studies this past year at school. I’ve learned to live with an open heart, which makes living in such a country so much harder. And to be clear, I’ve visited and worked in some of the most violent countries in the world and never felt the anxiety of random violence like I do in America. I’ve learned to lean into the pain and anger and find the lessons so they don’t consume my thoughts and actions. I’ve also learned to hold space for duality.
The duality of living in such a violent country yet also seeing the beauty of such a place as America is the thing I am struggling with one day after 19 children were murdered by a crazed gunman while learning arithmetic and giggling with their classmates. Holding space for both the reality of this place and the beauty of this place is getting harder by the day.
And if we’re being honest here, the next six months will determine just how much duality we can all hold without breaking. If we don’t restore sanity to this country and protect our children, our women and our elders from the desires of a handful of old ass white men and women in DC with ulterior motives they no longer bother hiding, then I fear our ability to hold that duality will be shattered.
And some of us will have to leave to preserve our mental well being. Is it too much to ask to simply want to enjoy public gathering spaces with lovely humans and share the communal act of breaking bread and meaningful conversation without the haunting specter of random violence lurking in the shadows of every moment? I don’t believe it is. I know other countries don’t live this way and are looking at us in absolute horror at what we permit to happen in our communal gathering spaces each and every day.
We must take a long hard look at who we are and who we, as a country, wish to become.
We can vote, we can protest, we can scream into the void until we can scream no more, but at the end of the day, such a systemic change as what’s needed now will take more than what the everyday person can accomplish. We need the DOJ to actually enforce the law and begin prosecuting politicians and citizens who committed treason on January 6th. We need accountability for those in power or those who were in power and openly abused it to try and steal elections and rig our voting system. We need celebrities and leaders with platforms and access to the masses, those who have cultivated massive followings of people, to speak out right now.