I’ve been thinking an inordinate amount lately about life and how I really feel about it. Being the daughter of a psychologist means I have a deeply rooted sense of empathy. I want to understand people — why they feel and act the way they do. But this good, innate sense of trying to grasp humanity also makes me susceptible to distress.
As we were strolling into an estate sale and I was waxing poetic my thoughts on life and current events with my dad, he pointed out that empathy is great, unless it leads to anxiety.
That’s where I run into trouble.
I generally have a hard time comprehending things that happened in our history. Dinosaurs? An ice age creating a bridge to North America? The American Civil War lasted four years? Our country participated in slavery? Lincoln existed and was assassinated? The Holocaust? The crucifixion of Jesus? Pearl Harbor? 9/11? Floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes…
The list quickly shows how memorable moments in history can be greatly negative ones. We remember the tragedies in our history so as (hopefully) not to repeat them. And these moments of calamity ultimately show us we are not invincible, but we are capable of great love, generosity and kindness.
I wonder if every generation feels like the dangers of their time are great. Or maybe the fact that they are more apparent to me now is simply because as adults, we realize and understand the dangers more. When you are living through things that will go down in the history books, it feels surreal.
I grew up in a semi-rural setting, one that allowed us to play in the dark, ride our bikes down the street, and walk to the corner for snow cones. It wasn’t until I was in high school that bomb threats began occurring and then the ultimate defining moment for our generation: Columbine.
I don’t know if it’s adulthood or just how times have changed that make me more afraid to walk down the street to the drugstore with my son or have me eyeballing every single movement in a movie theater (such an enjoyable experience now).
But it sucks. I don’t want to be afraid.
Last month was pretty excruciating. The killing of innocent children and brave, brave teachers; family friends losing a young child with no explanation; an amazing man losing an amazing wife to a long, hard-fought battle; and multiple friends unable to conceive a first or second child, with no answers.
Life, as they say, is anything but fair.
But tragedy, even as I struggle with the anxiety that ensues, has taught me two things: All life is precious and death comes to us all.
The Psalmist wrote: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”
I’ve heard that quoted hundreds of times, but this world in which we live, makes it real.
Every person has the capacity for good and for evil. Sometimes we choose evil. And in those times of inconceivable pain and loss, we cannot allow evil to win. We cannot allow fear, fear of a life we have no control over, to guide our existence.
In these times, when I’ve felt I cannot walk, I cannot comprehend the evil, or understand why things so precious are taken away, all I can do is feel God’s hand on my shoulder and hear his tears hit the ground with mine.
Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me, because when nothing else makes sense, God says keep going, do good, trust me that we will get through this together.
And until recently I didn’t really get it. But tragedy has made me less afraid of the end of this life.
I love the words of Sir Paul McCartney:
“At the end of the end, it’s the start of a journey to a much better place, and a much better place, has got to be special, no need to be sad, no reason to cry.”
God’s ultimate goal for all of us is eternity in a much better place. A place with no death, no sorrow, no tears. I choose to believe that. Because without a better place, none of this tragedy makes sense.
We watched a few episodes on TV about people who are preparing for various disasters/attacks and I started to wonder if those people were smart or crazy. From tyrannical governments to hurricanes, terrorists to nuclear power plant meltdowns, some things will happen, others, maybe not. I just don’t know. It seems less unlikely the more time goes on. But for some reason it’s just not enough for me to want to arm up and defend the can of SpaghettiOs in my basement from looters (or zombies).
If it comes to that, you can have the SpaghettiOs. I’m overcoming fear.