Jean Marie Gunner

Jean Marie Gunner
We are all basically good.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Collective Pain, Collective Compassion


“As I remember them, what unprotected faces they were; their very roughness and violence made them defenceless.  These boys had no practised manner behind which they could retreat and hold people at a distance.  They had only their fists to batter at the world with.”



How much sorrow can we take?  How much suffering must we endure?  I can barely wrap my mind around another mass shooting.  And, yesterday my sons went to see that very film that was the venue for a deranged, mindless act of violence and aggression.  Yet, how much aggression goes on every day, every moment, in our own minds? 

Since our whole world is connected in this information age, I get the sense that we experience a collective pain when there is a tragedy, whether initiated by another human being or a natural disaster.  We unite as one body and feel the sadness; our hearts break together, one big broken human heart.  Broken hearts can either turn hard and defensive, or soften us as we realize our true human frailty and vulnerability and transform into outward shows of compassion and human kindness.

I realize that I can do very little for the victims and their families of the Aurora, Colorado massacre.  I do though hold them deeply and gently and profoundly in my mind and heart.  The fact is that could be any of us, any of our children or members of our families.  That is the fundamental truth here.  We have very little control over random acts of violence.  We are so vulnerable really.  We love so fiercely, so much so that we even lash out at the ones we cherish and love at times.  We show them our anger when what we mean to show them is our love and devotion.  It is out of defensiveness and self-protection and fear that we do this.  It is human, just as to love so purely and truly and unabashedly is human.  Just as pausing to take a breath, noticing the turmoil of our minds, and extending gentleness to ourselves is human.

The events of my own week reminded me of the humanness of my own broken, wounded heart.  There is a great big hole in my heart this week.  Gaping, open, alive, and raw.  It helps me feel others sadness, so I can reach them in their need, however clumsily and awkwardly at time. 

And, what of all those who have no one, not one other to experience close friendship or connection with?  This week as I drove to my office, I noticed a man, probably in his forties, turning left as I was stopped at the red light.  For some reason, he just caught my attention, and touched my heart, as he drove his beat up, old tan Chevy with an elderly woman, maybe his mother, who barely cleared the dashboard.  He was big man, with dark hair, large set chest, driving with perhaps the one person who matters most to him in this world.  He passed in seconds as I felt some reminder to be grateful for the time I have, the time to breathe in this precious life of mine, the time to share with my children who are growing up so fast, time to feel the collective pain and to tap into the collective heart of compassion. 

(Excerpt from My Antonia by Willa Cather)

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