I remember Oklahoma City. I was in 7th grade and they stopped class and turned on the news. As information trickled in kids started getting scared. It didn’t seem real and it also seemed too real.
I remember Columbine. My town was not all that different than the one in Colorado. School was tense for weeks. Students became suspicious of each other. I remember thinking I was glad I was a Senior, because I would be leaving soon.
I remember the morning of 9/11. I was living in DC going to school at GWU. I walked over to my neighbors house to get a ride. As soon as I walked in they all looked at me. “Haven’t you seen what’s going on?” “No” I replied. As I sat down the second plane hit the towers.
The Terror Generation
Most of my life has been checkered by terrorism and tragedy. The war of my generation has been a war on terror: domestic, international, and personal. More than Gen X or Y or millennial I feel like I’m a part of the terror generation.
I’m blessed that none of these tragedies have involved those I’ve loved. But every time something like this happens, I’m reminded how close we are to the uncertain.
Sometimes the tragedy is dramatic and public. Sometimes it is close and personal.
My favorite history teacher from high school died in a car wreck in Greece. A friend from college dropped out and then killed himself. But whether the tragedy is local, or national, or international it’s hard to know what to do.
The events in Boston yesterday, reminded me of this feeling, the stomach churning uncertainty. The desire to do something, but not knowing what.
I’ve been watching people reach out: online, over the phone, and in person.
There is a desire to connect, to know what’s going on, and to feel safe. It’s important during these times to acknowledge these desires and allow them to arise.
In addition, many feelings may arise, anxiety, fear, anger, sadness, and confusion. All of these have a place in our lives and we must honor these feelings. But the question remains
What do you do, when there is nothing to do?
1. Slow Down
The effect of tragic events at any level can cause us to spin out of control. So the first step is to go slow. Decreasing the pace prevents mania and also creates space to feel whatever arises.
After 9/11 many people at my school panicked. We couldn’t call anyone and the fear was palpable. Once we slowed down we became more able to process what was going on. People came together, offered support, and a sense of community was created.
2. Pay Attention –
Difficult emotions often wait for opportune moments to arise. You may not have a strong connection to the events in Boston. But you might have strong feelings that arise.
This is natural. These unfelt feelings are arising, because you are willing to be with them. Take this chance to feel them fully. Pushing them down will only increase their power and prevent you from letting them go.
Ignore the story and instead focus on your body. What does anger, fear, and sadness feel like? Being willing to be with this deep level of emotion is a gift to our hearts.
3. Reflect on what’s Important
Events like this can bring our lives into clearer focus. Instead of being caught up in all the coverage, get caught up in your own heart.
Listen closely to what your heart is telling you about wholeness in your own life. What does is long to be connected to? Who does is long to be close to?
Once you’ve heard what it has to say, don’t be afraid to act from this place. Not out of desperation or grasping, but out of the clarity that difficult circumstances bring.
A few years back my father was diagnosed with a heart condition. I realized that I wanted to spend more time with him. Some part of me already knew that, but those events made my priorities crystal clear.
4. Tie Up Loose Ends
If there are things you’ve been putting off use this time to take action. Tragedies remind us that we never know what tomorrow hold. Don’t let this knowledge become fuel for anxiety. Instead let it become fuel for reconciliation, forgiveness, and peace.
5. Talk About It
Not just about the tragedy, but about how you feel. Take this chance to express your care and affection for those closest to you. If someone we loved had been there what would we have wanted to say the them.
We can be careless about our speech in everyday life. Use this time to become more mindful of what you say and what you don’t say.
I never told my history teacher how much I appreciated her. It was something I always meant to do, but now I won’t get the chance. Is there someone you want to tell something to? Why wait?
Life is our most precious resource. Every breath we take is a gift. Every step is a blessing.
Tragedy can trap us in negative mind states. Instead of indulging pessimism and fear feel those feelings and then let them go.
The best way to honor the precious gift of life is to live fully awake. To love with your whole heart. To cherish everyday with the wonder of your first day and the reverence of your last.
Life Is Short
Life is too short to take anything for granted. Be mindful as much as possible. And forgive yourself for the mistakes you may make along the way.
Our hearts and prayers go out for those in Boston. May this tragedy help us all grow, love, and be more present every moment of our lives.