Yesterday, in the evening, at a restaurant at which my family and I regularly visit, a man armed with a machete savaged a half dozen people, and was thereafter extinguished by police gunfire.
I probably wouldn’t have known so soon, but as it were, the phone rang, my wife answered, and I could hear crying on the other side. My mother was worried that we might have had a bite to eat there tonight, or somehow been involved as we live in the area.
My wife assured her that everything was ok on our side, that we were all accounted for and safe, but upon hearing the news, I honestly felt anything but safe.
In my own patterns, I am fiercely protective of my family, and all of my internal alarms bells starting ringing. “This shouldn’t happen here. This is a nice area of town. What does this mean for us? If it could happen there, it could happen anywhere. Anywhere we eat. Anywhere we shop. Should we move? Should I be carrying a weapon to defend us?”
My thoughts raced and I could feel myself sliding into an internal panic.
My logical mind was aware that my system was being overrun by the emotional charge set in motion by the events: A disturbed man committing an act of rage and brutality in a place and against people I have likely seen with my own eyes and can imagine even now, the news spreading contagiously and almost instantly, my mother hearing the news and no doubt gripped by her own emotions and fearing for the safety of her own family, calling to alert us and see if we were safe, and then that call setting off yet another cascade of events, this time internal, but culminating in thoughts like: what choices do I need to make right now to ensure the safety of our family, how do I protect against this happening to us in the future, was eating at that restaurant or living in this area a mistake or error in judgement, what other risks have I assessed too lowly.
You can see in the light of day the runaway nature of these thoughts.
My mind was presuming that these were all legitimate questions, but in reality, they were simply playing off of one another, gaining mass and speed like a snowball rolling down a hill. The assumption was that the risk was real and imminent to us, and further down in the questioning, that there was in fact an error (in thought or behavior) that needed correcting.
The facts themselves speak differently.
In fact, this area of town is quite safe. In fact, the odds of this type of thing happening are extremely low (and would presumably be even lower for a repeat). In fact, there was nothing that needed done at the moment I heard the news, as the aggressor was no longer attached to his body. And, last but not least, in fact, I was not involved in any way, not even as a bystander.
But all of these facts were slow to come, for in that moment, in some ways a part of me understood what was happening, and it was in some other ways powerless to stop it.
It was a like a mudslide – a heavy slope wetted and giving way, a torrent slipping with violence – tumbling and tearing all the way to the bottom.
The bottom of my particular mudslide was a place where I could recognize that I could experience the emotions and, that “I” (however one defines that container) was a large enough vessel to experience the emotions without being filled by them.
That I was an expanse on which emotions were happening.
I didn’t have to run from them or break them, stuff them down or hate them, “I” was big enough to experience the traumatic shockwave and not lose myself. That I could be here, feeling vulnerable and vengeful and sad, and still experiencing that part of me that was not consumed.
That was the bottom of the mudslide.
From this wide-ness of awareness and over the course of time, I found a capacity to offer kindness and compassion to myself, to recognize and sit with those difficult and painful emotions and still be ok, even as they had not yet abated.
Make no mistake, it was not a surrendering to the fear or the anger or the sadness, like one would submit to a cage. It was being with them, letting them be. Watching them bloom and stall, stutter and fall, withered, their show of bluster and light coming to a quiet end.
Even today as I write, I have to be with new uncomfortable feelings and judgements: “how boastful” “how proud” “how self-centered, you weren’t even involved” “how soft you are now” “so what, who cares”
Today I am large enough to experience it all though, and I hope to be tomorrow as well.
I hope you find something of value here.
My deep condolences to all those involved in this and similar situations.