What We Could All Use in the Wake of Orlando

I can’t make sense of the words and politics swirling around me on social media these days. Every time I get online, I leave feeling exhausted, discouraged, and tied up in knots.

Forty-nine lives were just cut short in Orlando; taken by a mad man.

Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, daughters, sons, husbands, wives, partners, and friends are gone. Those who are left to pick up the pieces in the wake of this horrible tragedy mourn.

While they mourn and press into all of the questions that come when someone you love is ripped away in death; we offer policy solutions, answers, and arguments.

When my brother died, the last thing I wanted to hear were people’s platitudes, personal stories of pain, or emotional processing. I only wanted them to show up and be present. To sit with me. To allow me to grieve. To listen. And to remember.

Shiva is the Jewish tradition of mourning death. I am not Jewish, but this practice is appealing to me on some levels. When people sit Shiva, they gather around the bereaved to show their support and to honor the life of the individual who died.

The way people show up during Shiva is different from anything I have ever experienced. Rabbi Joseph Telushkin writes that “according to Jewish law, there is a particular etiquette for paying a Shiva visit. Visitors are to enter quietly, take a seat near the mourner, and say nothing until the mourner addresses them first.”

He talks about how we are generally unaware of what a grieving person needs; and that by allowing space for silence, we can help to meet that person in one of their greatest times of suffering.

In silence.

When my brother died, everything was thrown into flux. It was horrible and dark, and most days I could barely breathe. I knew grief would be hard, but I didn’t understand the impact others could have on it until I walked through it myself.

My family’s grieving process was often compounded by well-meaning people who showed up with their baggage and unknowingly used our pain as an extension of their own unprocessed grief. They walked right into our space with their poorly thought out words, inappropriately applied feelings, and spiritual reasoning.

I’m certain they meant well. And I’m sure most of us mean well right now too. But meaning well doesn’t always translate into doing well. And why is it people offer noise where silence is needed? Why are we uncomfortable with pain? Because pain hurts. And it’s hard.

Those who have experienced the loss of a family member or close companion understand how essential it is to push through the pain, and how dangerous it is to remain stuck in anger.

But wow are we angry in this country right now. We’re angry about guns. We’re angry about religion. We’re angry about bathrooms and political agendas. We’re angry about media bias. We’re angry at our current president, past presidents, and presidential candidates who may never be. We’re angry about using certain words, not using other words; and ironically angry words abound.

We are literally tearing into each other from every angle.

And we are missing our opportunity to honor the lives of the lost with each passing argument.

I want to know the names and faces of the men and women who were murdered. I want to hear their stories. I want to push into that pain to honor them and those left in this wake of sadness.

Looking back at my own family’s mourning process, I wish people had shown up, sat down, and held quiet space. I’ve come to believe that when community checks it’s baggage at the door and comes together to support the bereaved, it can be one of the greatest gifts offered.

I think it’s time for us to set our collective baggage aside and show up. Let’s sit a Shiva of sorts as people in unity and solidarity with all those who are grieving.

Let’s put away our angry words, our pointed blame, and our baggage; and join with the loved ones of the slain, with the LGBTQ community as a whole, and with one another.

I know it’s not comfortable to sit in the silent space between tragedy and solution. And I know many things need to change in this country. But if we fall prey to the notion that an angry word or a social media brow-beating will somehow effect change or represent an act of honoring the lives lost; then I am afraid we are one step closer to losing our humanity.

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