I used to be a very hate-filled person. Never towards other people, but consistently and viciously toward myself. Typical Teen Angst was, for me, atypical and manifested as self-inflicted violence, the scars of which I carry to this day – emotionally and physically.
Although I never intentionally harmed another human my apathy and anger of course affected my family, who were bewildered by and terrified for me; and my friends, whose own coming-of-age distracted them from being able to truly understand what depression or anxiety or suicide actually are. And really, it wasn’t their job to understand it. I guess.
When I stumbled into my early twenties the rage started to abate. By 24, aside from a handful of outlier anxiety attacks and some dips into depression or leaps toward mania, I was mostly even-keeled. Now, at 27, I can anticipate my anxiety and mood anomalies enough to maneuver myself safely through them.
I did not learn to do this on my own.
My mother, who loves her children more intensely than I believe most parents can, or do, was the rock I washed up on again and again. My siblings, a favorite teacher, a few good friends, and the support of my mother’s closely knit and compassionate friend group were the net that helped to pull me back from the depths and deposit me back on the shore.
I was never wading alone or sinking in solitude, even when I wanted to be. I resented people for it, for caring when I didn’t, but without their intervention I would not be the person I am today. Or any person at all, perhaps.
People helped me because they loved me and they saw that I was in pain. This is not surprising. This is a story you have heard a thousand times. And yet six months ago in San Bernardino, a couple slaughtered coworkers in a banquet hall; a little over week ago a disillusioned young American carried out the worst mass shooting in incorporated United States history, and within the last 24 hours the Senate decided that safety and commonsense are less important than easy access to the tools used to create the aforementioned chaos.
So I ask: Where are the compassionate souls? The figures whose love and understanding seep into even the darkest corners of the human soul and illuminate it with just enough hope to carry on through the darkness? Why didn’t the San Bernardino couple, or the Orlando shooter, or the members of the Senate who chose or were manipulated to vote down measures that would incontestably make the world a safer, less violent place have someone to hold them, soothe them, tell them to buck up when they needed to and simmer down when they must?
I firmly believe that compassion, this beautiful human gift that allows us to not only feel but help to carry others’ pain, is the keystone to constructing a solid and safe community in this world.
It’s what got me through and out of my teen years alive.
I probably never would have shot up a school, or a nightclub, and I also like to believe that I never actually would have ended my own life. But the intention was there, surging strong even when it ebbed, for more than half a decade; what shifted that intention was the outpouring of love from the people around me.
Guns are an enormous part of the issues we face, but violence will be carried out when it’s desired to be carried out, with a weapon procured or created. The worst weapon available in this world, and the one we’re doing nothing about, is the fact that we do not seek to understand each other. Mystery leads to resentment and fear; if we hate each other, or are afraid of each other, how can we be the support to pull one another back to shore when a tragedy like the Orlando shooting sweeps us out into the depths?
Every person needs to practice compassion in every interaction, every day. Without it we will continue to tumble blindly, disconnectedly, into the deepening darkness.