Breathing Through Heartbreak

My post earlier this week was more about my own processing of the tragedy that unfolded in the Kansas City area last weekend. In addition to that violence, our community is also coping with an ongoing source of fear. There have been more than twenty incidents in the past few weeks where someone has shot at cars on our roads and highways. So far, there hasn’t been serious injury, but that is a result of luck or divine intervention (depending on how you explain moments of grace).

My clients who struggle with anxiety (and many of the rest of us too), are having a really hard time right now. One of the tools that we use to cope with anxiety is to explore all of the evidence that fears are not in response to actual danger. We talk about how rare it is for people to engage in random violence–we look at the facts.

This week, in this city, our facts are tougher to handle. Even if random violence really is rare (and it still is), we feel as though we have been exposed to a LOT of it. Most of us out there are still very safe in our cars. Most of us can go to the community center and not be at risk.

But, but, but. There are two families facing the fact that, for their loved ones, rare came true. There are more than 20 drivers who have bullet holes to prove that they aren’t responding to a hypothetical threat.

If you are anxious at all–these truths feel bigger than the truth that we’re still as safe as we were before. In fact, even if you aren’t anxious, it is hard to feel safe with these headlines. Honestly, I’m not a terribly anxious person, and I am struggling to feel as safe as I did two weeks ago.

It is tempting to freeze. To limit the trips we take. To call in sick. To hunker down, with our loved ones close to us, and just hide out until the world feels safe and sane again. Centuries of human history have taught our brains that the appropriate response to danger is to get away from it. To run, or if we can’t run, to freeze and hope that danger doesn’t notice us.

I have said it before. Random bad stuff happens. None of the three folks who died last weekend was doing anything wrong. None of the passengers on the Malaysian plane deserved to disappear. None of the families with bullet holes in their cars deserved to be assaulted. We can’t prevent or avoid random bad things.

But we can refuse to let the possibility of random awfulness rob us of lives that are rich and full of meaning. We can make choices to take action. We can reach out to one another. We can shine our own small lights in the darkness. Have you ever been in a dark room that was then progressively lit by many individual candles? It’s amazing. No one light is enough to really change the darkness, but each single light contributes to the creation of light for and with the others around it.

So today, and tomorrow, and the day after that, I am refusing to freeze.

Don’t get me wrong. I am afraid to drive my normal routes (which include the areas that have had shootings). But I probably will anyway, at least sometimes. I have felt like putting my family on lockdown. But I refuse. I will not let the random bad stuff rule my life. I will show up and connect and stand for what I value.

If you’re refusing to freeze, let me know, or let us all know in the comments. If I can support you, let me know that too.

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