The stillness within me is punctuated by vagaries of thought and sensation, an upwelling of feelings. They arrive following days of a deeper quietude, the sort that language cannot translate with succinctness nor a rudimentary grace. It all lives in a surround of consciousness, yet I am full of not-knowing. Limited. Time even seems defined by an existential awareness of separateness, not constant but clear. And then a sense of merging with humanity visits me and I am plummeted into a morass that also cradles in a primal way. This isn’t a new experience; it has become too frequent.
I have put this off, my usual mid-week essay, a genre that allows me to tackle and examine a variety of ideas, of internal and external interactions. A genre I love because of its strictures and demands. The words shape facts while the reality I experience gives rise to a flood of connections. Somewhere within this there is a brief communion as I strive to remain loyal to the truth as I know and understand it. Yet whenever I have begun to write of the facts of this topic today, either blankness or tears have marred my physical, intellectual and psychological vision. I have to leave to others the task of reporting and investigating acts of terror but still I want to put in words…something…and this is all I can offer.
On the last very early Sunday morning, a massacre occurred in Orlando, Florida. It is worldwide news by now. Such information travels across the globe so fast that we can know and yet not know really, so we hear, try to absorb and wait. I, too, have let information in bit by bit, even when not wanting to know. Then I stared at blank pages begun on my PC. I don’t much comment on national or world news; I am not writing a political blog. But this is also other than that.
While this will be repeated many times I will add my voice and my agony: why again all this violent death? The terrifying end of 49 human beings, leaving survivors–the wounded, the traumatized–to go on living with it every passing moment? This is again more grievous loss of life that seeks and cannot find a way to contain the keening. It seems stullifying, unfathomably so. A reminder surfaces at moments, a minuscule comfort: that people somehow manage to go on. To endure what was imagined as unendurable. To mine the treasure of love, anyway. To root out compassion even in the dark, thorny places. To grab onto a shred of hope and not relinquish it despite the poison that can render us exhausted. We still know how to put into motion an intention to become braver, stronger, wiser even as the rage against causes of suffering ebbs and flows.
On Sunday afternoon, despite the specter of fear that slips about, despite the stunning grief that descended on our country once more, my husband and I went down to our city center to the waterfront. We have a river walk along the Willamette River. The annual Rose Festival has begun and lasts a month, a time when thousands of tourists visit in search of not only our world famous roses but also our food and coffee and micro beer, arts and entertainment, and the extraordinary beauty around us. I wanted not to see the arts and crafts market or the festival midway fair so much; that has been done and done over the years. And I have often studied the big ships that set anchor in our port to be admired. I have also witnessed the dragon boat races many times, thrilled to do so, cheering on all vibrant teams.
It may seem selfish to go out and about, as if it could be just any walk after tragedy such as this. But it was hard to do–the weight of it. I needed to make my body a part of this world. Dawdle in the sunlight. To breathe the early summer air that was saturated with sounds, with natural and man-made smells. To walk and feel the muscles in my legs, the pumping of my heart. To feel the vivacity of life humming and dancing about and to join in. I wanted to be around people, just enough. To stroll through palpable laughter, hear strangers calling out to one another in fun and excitement. To see youth riding scary carnival rides only to soon be safe again; watch children climb into and wriggle out of their parents’ arms. I had to watch our river, friendly and commerce-busy and finally intersecting with the mighty Columbia–those miles north and south I have walked countless times over decades. To visit the cafes and little garden areas and the old and new architecture I know so well. I wanted to love my city as it has loved me, for Portland has been a nurturing and energizing home for my family. We just wanted to walk without a fear that blocked our curiosity, and we did. We never know when our paths will end so until then, we go forth into the moment.
And it turns out I did want to do all the things I’ve done. So I offer you a brief portion of last Sunday afternoon. After that news. After those taken had left us and as those still living were tended to far from here–this, my city which mourns, too. May we not forget either the living or the dead. May we find moments of grace amid wreckage, and share a balm of small kindnesses. And go into the world and walk with life, for life, despite the risks that always accompany this human living.