I was sitting in my office the other day when my daughter Christina walked in and asked me what I was up to.
I told her I was thinking about everything that had happened this week and how I felt about it all. I sat there thinking about how I felt attending Kobe and Gianna Bryant’s memorial service with my son Christopher on Monday. I thought about how I felt on Tuesday as I watched another round of the Democratic debates. (I ended up watching alone because everyone else got up and left, saying “I’ve had it!”) I thought about how I felt about Ash Wednesday, the concept of Lent, and Pope Francis’ challenge for us all to give up “trolling,” or insulting others on social media. I thought about the Coronavirus and the fear, panic, and suffering it's wreaking around the world.
I told Christina I was trying to figure out what all these things have in common and, without skipping a beat, she said: “PAIN.”
Bam! I thought. How right she is!
It feels like pain is everywhere right now, and that people are expressing it in a myriad of ways. I myself believe we are all feeling a collective pain that we aren’t naming nor are we seeing as an opportunity to have a shared experience.
Everyone who spoke at Kobe and Gianna Bryant’s memorial spoke from a deep place of pain. They spoke of shock, disbelief, loss, and gut-wrenching pain. It’s my experience that when you go to a memorial—be it a funeral or a celebration of life—you often find yourself thinking about your own losses and your own grief. Your own pain bubbles up to the surface, yet most of us don’t share what we are feeling.
I also thought of pain as I watched the debate on Tuesday and witnessed the candidates screaming and trying to take one another down in such a brutal, personal way. I thought of the pain so many people in our country are experiencing. I thought about the anguish the candidates themselves seemed to be experiencing as they fight to be the last one standing. I thought about the anger (or some might say the heightened passion) that certain candidates are bringing to this moment, and how so many people seem to be responding to that level of heat. I find myself thinking about what’s underneath of it as it spills out into our national conversation.
Then Lent arrived, and as it always does, it brought back memories of my childhood. It made me recall how my father would make us all go to 6:45 a.m. mass every day. I hated that. I like Lent better now as an adult because I better understand its purpose and its benefit. I use it as a time to challenge myself to give up something I love (chips, crackers, cookies) as well as to do something that’s hard for me (engage compassionately in conversations with people who hold opinions that trigger me).
Pope Francis challenged us all to “give up useless words, gossip, rumors, tittle-tattle and speak to God on a first-name basis.” Amen to that.
He said we live in an atmosphere polluted by too much verbal violence and too many offensive and harmful words, all which are amplified by the internet. These days, people insult each other as easily as they say “good morning.” Amen to this, too.
This brings me back to Christina. She and I also discussed that afternoon how hot and angry people seem to feel these days. We talked about how harsh some people’s tones are, and how hurtful those tones can be to another person, especially to someone who might be more sensitive. Christina told me how sad all this makes her, and how discouraged she and others in her generation feel about the future of our shared world.
To me, she and the Pope were more or less saying the same thing. They were both challenging us to take it down a few notches. To change our tune, change our tone, and cool off. I know in an election year that it might feel impossible to do. I know it’s easier said than done while a mysterious flu has everyone on edge. But maybe, just maybe, this is exactly the right time to take things down a notch.
Maybe this is the moment to not only fight against gun violence, but verbal violence as well. Maybe this is the exact moment for each of us to recognize that our pain is, in fact, a collective pain. We don’t have to compare our pain. We just need to recognize that we all have it regardless of our gender, the color of our skin, our political preferences, or our zip codes.
The truth is, none of us is immune to heartbreak, loss, fear, or panic. As I sat in the Staples Center on Monday, I knew that everyone in that place was experiencing some level of pain. Some of it was about Kobe and Gianna, sure, but I also dare to say that a lot of it involved other things in their lives. The tears shed in that stadium were for so many reasons. I know mine were.
So, as we move forward into Lent, past Super Tuesday, and as we move forward into a heightened political season, may we each try regardless of whether we are Catholic or not to think about the Pope’s challenge. May we each think about our role in creating the toxic angry atmosphere that exists in our world. May we each take a moment to realize that we are not the only ones in pain, and that we each can make a move to alleviate someone’s else pain and most important, not to add to it.
You see, my heart has been broken, and I bet yours has been too. I’ve lost people I love, and I bet you have too. I’ve felt rejected and embarrassed, and I bet you have too. I’m scared of various things, and I bet you are too. The list goes on for me, and I imagine it does for you as well.
The last question at Tuesday night’s debate was about misconceptions and life mottos. I think one of the biggest misconceptions many of us have is to think another person who hasn’t had our life’s experiences, who hasn’t walked in our shoes, can’t relate to what we’re going through – I think that’s been a misconception about me. We incorrectly believe that no one else has failed like we have, suffered heartbreak or loss as we have, or experienced the same sting of verbal abuse like we have. But the truth is, most people have. I know I have! That’s why most, if not all of us, would benefit from taking it down a notch.
Most of us would feel better if we knew we weren’t alone in our pain. Most of us would benefit from making a collective agreement to change the atmosphere we are living in today. We would be better off if we all made an agreement to treat ourselves and others as fellow human beings and to realize that none of us are better than or less than the other. After all, we are all equal in the eyes of God. That is a life motto that is worth embracing.
That brings me to my final thought this week. A few days ago, a Sunday Paper reader Enis sent me flowers and a letter telling me about her family (you can read it here). Why did she send me flowers? Because I had written in this space a few weeks ago that one of the ways I feel loved is getting flowers for no reason other than “just because.”
Her “just because” act of kindness changed my entire week. It blew me away. It activated the love and joy inside of me. It made me forget about the pain and suffering of the world for a moment and instead think about what I, in turn, could do for someone else. In fact, many of you suggested we do a “just because” challenge, which I love.
So during this Lenten season, I’m going to take up that challenge and send some “just because” flowers to people I know, and some people I don’t. I’m going to send some to people I like, and some to people who actually trigger me. Yup, I am. I’m going to do it not just because I believe it will help me but also because maybe, just maybe, it will help ease someone else’s pain, just because.
That’s what I’ve been thinking about this week. What about you?