I can barely contain my tears today. Is this the genuine heart of sadness?
I wrote that, and much of what follows, this morning in an email to a friend of nearly 50 years. Now I write it for you. All of you. Everyone. Even, maybe especially, those of you with whom I disagree about things that matter
When I woke Monday to the news from Las Vegas, I remember feeling first the suffering of all those people injured. And all those terrified, and all those who loved them or worried about them. My second thought was for what was about to happen next, on social media and in the news and among my friends and acquaintances and students.
There would be the arguments blaming lax gun laws. It took 7 minutes for the first one of those to show up on my newsfeed.
There would be the arguments in favor of more guns, or defending the rights of gun owners, or anticipating that this would be an excuse to try and wrest a gun from the poster’s “cold, dead hands.” The first of those showed up at the 9-minute mark.
Then would come the mental health argument. That if only we had better access to mental health treatment, these things wouldn’t happen. Missing entirely the point that this unfairly, and unjustifiably based on the statistics, saddles the mentally ill with the blame for mass murder. That post took a little longer. The first of those showed up at 15 minutes.
I’m not making those numbers up. I knew the arguments would come, in that order, and I waited and watched my Facebook news feed, timing it.
I stopped timing before the conspiracy theories started to show up, but they are now out in full force.
We humans are so determined to make sense of the senseless, so intolerant of even a moment’s ambiguity, that we will cling to any explanation, no matter how sensible or foolish, to comfort ourselves. Then we will defend those explanations vehemently, even violently, entrenching ever more the ideologies that divide us. That reify an “us” and a “them.”
Then, caught in dim hopelessness, we move on to the next crisis, or await it eagerly, or pretend it won’t come. We never quite realize that it is the very vehemence of our certainty that keeps driving us apart. That makes the next crisis certain to come.
I wrote this in my morning pages: “This moment, I feel a huge weight on my shoulders, my chest. I feel the pressure of tears building up behind my eyes. This is what the Buddhists call samsara. This is the endless cycle of suffering as cause follows effect, endlessly, blindly, the wheel turning until we either wake up or destroy ourselves. Only to do it yet again.”
This sorrow that I feel is, I think, what’s called “the genuine heart of sadness.” Out of awareness of suffering comes compassion. And out of compassion comes a dedication to relieve suffering wherever possible.
I know nothing more I can do than to dedicate myself to look actively for ways to relieve suffering, when I can and where I can. Nothing more than to work on myself, to lower my threshold of mindless reactivity to things I dislike or disagree with, or my clinging to the ideas I hold dear.
Perhaps this is the best vow that I can muster at the moment: I dedicate myself to relieving suffering in whatever small ways I can.
Not for reward, or merit, or even to have a result. It’s a big ocean to bail, and mine is but a small bucket. Often, as I ponder this, the impossible magnitude of the task, I feel lost, and small, and sad.
And yet that is exactly what I dedicate myself to do. Perhaps you will join me. For the hope of that, I am grateful beyond measure.
Dr Les Kertay