Dear Lily June,
The internet moves very quickly when it comes to processing violent events. Victims’ faces get plastered across social media sites; perpetrators’ backgrounds get analyzed for who could commit such atrocities and why. And then, the internet moves on quickly. Or rather, the people behind the internet move on. The bloggers, the tweeters, the journalists, the caring concerned citizens of planet Earth who cannot dwell in the darkness for too long return to their regularly scheduled programs of cat memes and gourmet cupcake photos. It is how it should be.
I know that, a week removed from the December 2 San Bernardino shooting and even more weeks removed from the November 20 Paris attacks, I am incredibly late to add my voice to the throng who has already successfully deconstructed, reconsidered and resisted this kind of violence. The kind of violence where innocent people die or are permanently disfigured not because of something they, personally, have done, but because of the dark thoughts in the dark minds of those who took it upon themselves to send a message written on a parchment of flesh in the ink of blood.
The words I type feel paltry, unimportant and unreal in the face of such terror. I do not know these victims or violent actors. I do not know what to say to soothe the surviving families of either side, both of whom have suffered unimaginable loss and horror. I am, more often than I’d like to imagine, a writer at a loss for words. I know the bodies of the lost are not platforms upon whose backs I can step to make an argument for or against gun control, for or against mental health treatment or stigmas, for or against political issues of any kind. I resist and refuse to treat the loss of human life as the first match thrown into a powder keg of uninformed opinion, and confusion, and untimely persuasion.
In the past, I have spoken too quickly after events like this, and I have wished for my words back, so I could cram them back into my throat and choke, as I should, on their bitterness. In the past, I have thought “Now is the time to open a dialogue about X,” and I have tried to make grief and loss an impetus for change (a still, I believe, noble goal). But in the past, Lily June, I was not your mother. I was not setting an example for anyone. And I had no one to consider but my own selfish self.
Now, when an event like this happens, maybe my first thoughts will always be, as they have been recently, what if you were there?
What if you grew up and moved away and had your own life, and you were independent, and you were happy? What if you called me that day–that fateful day–to say you were going into a city–any city in any part of the world–where you would go about the exquisite mundanity that makes up most days in humanity?
What if you were going to work at a place that served those with developmental disabilities? Or what if you were going to get help for your own developmental disability? Or what if you’d simply entered a theater in one of the most beautiful cities in the world in which to listen to a band play music that made you feel alive? That distracted you from the doggedness of the day-to-day drudgery we endure to get to the good stuff?
What if I didn’t know where you were when the first shot rang out or bomb blew up, but some pang exploded in my chest at that very moment, and I wouldn’t know why until hours later? What if I heard on the radio, driving home from my own workplace, that people–many people–dozens, hundreds, thousands–had been hurt? What if I’d known you’d been in that place at that time? What kind of panic grips the loved ones of the already lost?
What if I’d rushed home, barely able to breathe, and had gone online immediately to see if any of the victims had yet been identified? What if I saw your face, the same face I’d held for hours as I do now, in my hands, whispering even in your sleep that I’ll love you forever? What if my physical time with you was cut, suddenly, brutally, unfathomably short?
What if I wailed out to heavens, keening a song to the warmth your body had filled the crook of my arms with when I’d held you, as I do now, for hours? What if I knew the last feelings you’d felt burst through your nerves was pain? Pain in those legs that were once so chubby and round, and had to be scooted and dragged and rolled around a carpet before you could ever get up and use them to grow, to walk, to learn, to love, to live in another city, another state, another life from the time when you were my baby?
What if I couldn’t stop wailing but the world had stopped listening and so I became an inconvenient reminder of what we’d rather all forget? What if I cried until my eyes ran dry, and I was forced to blink dust that someone was paid to sweep from me, and the world could then carefully forget that you–and I–ever existed?
Or what if we lived like everyone we met had–and so many have–lost a loved one to brutality? What if we lived like every face we met was a father or mother of someone who depended on them, a daughter or son of someone who’d spent their entire lives loving them, body and soul?
What if, when we were angry, we treated the person we were angry with as if they were our own flesh and blood, our own child, our own parent? What if we took that kind of responsibility for everyone, even the “perpetrators”? What if we refused to meet their violence with violence? What if we embraced them as a parent might–with horror at what their adult son or daughter had done, but also a refusal to stop loving the child inside the adult?
Lily June, in these dark and violent days, I wish I could diaper you in kevlar and dress you in a onesie of armor. I cannot.
I wish I knew which words–any words–I could reach into as a writer that would change the world where you live, and make the danger, and the hurt, and the pain, and the anger, and the violence, and the heartbreak, and the grief, and the loss go away. I do not.
I have to live each day with you like it might be your last or mine. I have to embrace the darkness because it’s where the stars choose to shine. I have to rock you for hours and hours–until my arms fall asleep and my hands ache from holding your face–and hope the love I pour into you becomes the love you return to the world.
I have to look at cat memes and photographs of gourmet cupcakes and hope. I hope you are safe. I hope you protect the safety and sanctity of those around you. I hope you and I never have to get news about one of us or the other after it’s too late. And I hope if anything ever happens to me, that if you play your What If’s and I’m on the other side–that you forgive the one who took me from you, even if I don’t know yet or believe I could forgive anyone who would stoop so low as to take you from me.
I love you, Lily. Let us, no matter what happens in and with our lives, let love be our legacy.
- “PikiWiki Israel 20285 quot;Stop Violencequot; sculpture in Petah Tikva” by Dr. Avishai Teicher. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:PikiWiki_Israel_20285_quot;Stop_Violencequot;_sculpture_in_Petah_Tikva.JPG#/media/File:PikiWiki_Israel_20285_quot;Stop_Violencequot;_sculpture_in_Petah_Tikva.JPG