Last week, in one day, I heard about the Orlando shooting and the unrelated but tragic death of one of my daughter’s former Queen Anne schoolmates. So many questions. No satisfying answers.
The Orlando massacre of 49 innocent people was a hate crime that targeted LGBTQ people. Some have called it an act of domestic terrorism because of the shooter’s reported allegiance to ISIS. The one certainty is that a young man was allowed to purchase a gun, designed not for self-protection or hunting, but for killing multiple people with rapid fire. After all the gun violence that has plagued our country, how can this still be possible? Legal?
On the list of troubling thoughts running through my brain is the fact that it is not the first time something like this has happened. “Oh no – not this again,” said one friend. This. Again. Shock becomes diluted because we know This. Random acts of violence that devastate communities are now a part of life.
I don’t want to live in a world where these things happen. And where we become anesthetized by their frequency. And, worse, where our system does not prevent, but effectively enables such acts.
Attending the funeral of a child is one of the hardest things we are ever asked to do. The “child” was a 26-year old man when he died, but he was one of our community’s children, attending Coe and McClure. He had many challenges throughout his short life, including addiction. The system failed to help him, leaving parents, siblings and family members to pick up the pieces.
In working through both of these events with my grieving daughter and with my own stunned and aching heart I asked the usual question: Why?
The answer: I don’t know. But I have some thoughts.
Our society is overly focused on the individual. We are encouraged, even pressured to be the best, the richest, the biggest, the most. Not all of us are able to achieve these things – nor do we want to. So where does that leave us? ML Stedman, author of “The Light Between Oceans” said, “I believe we can live good enough lives even when we don’t get the things we thought were important. Happiness is a modern idea.”
I think she is right. My life at this point is nothing like what I thought it would be. If I were of a different ilk, I might be desperately sad. Feel like a failure. Fortunately, I have a support system that prevents me from feeling any of those things. But where do we turn when we don’t have support, when we don’t have community?
We cannot depend on our leaders because they are part of the problem. Look at our two proclaimed choices for President this year. One is an incendiary racist and the other a warmonger and Wall Street devotee. Neither of them will address or solve our true problems. Because we are not their primary concern.
Many have stopped looking to religious institutions for guidance because too often they have let us down, failing many of us and excluding those who don’t abide by the rules.
So what do we do? Sadly, we look inward for happiness. We embrace a sports mentality where our team, whether it’s a sports team, a political party, or — fill in the blank here _______________ — has to win in order for us to feel good. But the feeling doesn’t satisfy for more than a few minutes.
Society has failed us in so many ways. Failed us by blocking leaders who are brave and strong and speak the truth. Failed us by refusing to impose strict gun control laws. Failed us by not prioritizing effective help or support for the mentally challenged, the poor, the drug addicted, the marginalized members of our community.
During the funeral, we were asked to remember this young man by emulating his capacity for kindness toward the hurting, lonely and helpless.
That is something we can all do. We don’t need a political leader to demand it or a religious institution to facilitate it. We can do it ourselves by changing our behavior. By reaching out to people we encounter who need love and compassion. By teaching our children to do the same. By thinking before we speak. By actively seeking out people who need to be loved. By raising awareness through our words and example.
Looking outside of yourself and prioritizing others can make you happy and has the power to heal. In my 25 years at UW Medical Center’s volunteer office, I read numerous scientific studies proving that doing good for others triggers personal growth and happiness.
And it might just make a difference for someone who is suffering and lonely. Now that is the kind of world I would like to live in.
IRENE PANKE HOPKINS is a freelance writer and essayist. She lived on Queen Anne for 20 years and now lives on a sailboat in Ballard.