Last week, Gracie, who is in 8th grade, called me from school, crying.
Their class had just watched the videos from 9/11, videos that included a lot of the live footage, and the photographs that came out in the days immediately following that tragedy. She was crying not just because of having seen, and felt, the loss, and the terror of that event, but also, because her teacher immediately moved on from the video into an analytical discussion of Islam.
I was upset with her teacher, but then I realized – she’s just doing what we all learn to do. And teaching the kids to do it too: De-personalize, objectify, contain, move on, stay busy.
To cope with how overwhelming life can be, we have to stay shallow. In these days of mass shootings, children separated from their families at the border, a corrupt criminal justice system and the school-to-prison-pipeline, environmental devastation – in these days where all of these big and heartbreaking things are – everywhere – to live in this world, we have to keep so much held in, well-contained – and we learn to just move on to whatever is the next big thing, to just keep going. (And worse: this shallow orientation also tends to benefit the very small – and increasingly smaller – few who will profit from the status quo.)
I’ve been re-reading adrienne maree brown’s emergent stratagy all summer, and I keep thinking about one line early in the book: “We are brilliant at survival, but brutal at it.” She goes on to say – “We tend to slip out of togetherness the way we slip out of the womb, bloody and messy and surprised to be alone.”
Gracie had a very human reaction, a healthy reaction, a heart-felt response to something overwhelmingly painful. It reminded me of Joanna Macy’s “Work that Reconnects” – that begins first by really honoring the pain and the grief – of all we have lost, all we are losing. Most important, is the opportunity to do this work communally instead of in private, individualized spaces. Because in the communal spaces of grief, we realize our collective power for change.
It was such an opportunity to teach these middle schoolers about communal grief, and the power of collective action. Instead, her teacher said, when she heard about Gracie’s reaction, “I’m glad she took care of herself by calling you, and getting a hug from the counselor.”
I’m taking the kids to Denver’s Climate Strike on Friday because I want them to know that there is another way to respond to our personal sense of loss and grief – they are both extremely distressed about climate change and its impact. And to know that they are not alone – there’s a massive community of people out there who are also heartbroken, outraged, and ready to lead our country and our planet in an entirely new way of survival. A survival that prioritizes staying together – in the tears, in the heartache, in the terror. A survival that uses that heartache to motivate us to do better – not in some distant future of some future election cycle – but now.