One at a time
July 22, 2016
Some mornings now I wake up and I can't breathe.
When I am not sleeping in the night I listen to the BBC that becomes NPR around 5 a.m. It used to be the recitation of cricket scores in lilting accents could lull me back to sleep. But now, more mornings than not, there is another breaking news story of another horrific incident, somewhere on the planet. Often in the United States. And flags are lowered to half-mast, where they have spent more of the time this year than they have flying high and wide.
And I flinch as I listen to the story of 49 people in a bar in Orlando on a lively dance party night killed by a lone man because those young people are gay? Or the black man killed after being pulled over for a traffic stop. Then the story of 300 people killed in Turkey, as our ally and a long-time form of democracy is under a coup attempt. And then another black man killed for no discernable reason and then five police officers and five more wounded in what was, until then, a peaceful protest in Dallas. And I am without words and sick and saddened and then on Bastille Day with families on a promenade enjoying a lovely evening to celebrate with fireworks and picnics, a crazy person in a truck kills 84 people and maims dozens more, plowing them down with his cargo truck. And then in Baton Rouge three more officers are killed — ambushed, really — after responding, as we hope they would, to a 911 call. And I just want to stay in my cozy bed in a delusional safe place and, honest to god, pull the covers over my head.
And I can't breathe.
There isn't time to grieve anymore before the next set of horrific deaths take over the news cycle. And seep into and crowd our emotional bandwidth. We are awash in blood and bodies and tatters of formerly full vibrant lives left on the floor of a bar or a cafe, a table or a sidewalk or the inside of a parking garage. Backpacks and sneakers and baby blankets and cell phones and leather jackets and strollers and badges and families and friends all left as collateral damage in a war that is being waged globally against people who are simply different than the assassin(s).
And because the crimes against the officers in Dallas are so horrific and potential for additional deaths and destruction was so eminent, we don't stop to fully question the moral and ethical implications of using a robot to kill a civilian in a peaceful country.
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Because we are not a peaceful country anymore and we are not a part of a peaceful planet.
I can't breathe some mornings because I can't figure out where this goes…how it ends…how my sweet grandchildren are seeing the world every day through blood-splattered glasses. Last year we reached the point where more returned military people have killed themselves (349) than those killed in the war in Afghanistan in 2012 (295, as reported by the AP and NPR). Some of those committing mass killings in this country turn out to be angry returned military people who are unbalanced, have not received the health care they need and decide that suicide by cop is something that will end their personal pain.
The Other has become everyone, everyone who doesn't look like us, think like us, worship like us, pick the same bathrooms to use like us. There are so many Others, the Us has become so small and muddied, it is confusing to know who is who unless you understand we are all the Other to someone who wants to find a reason to hate us, mark us, hurt us.
This morning when I woke up and could not return to sleep I didn't want to hear a rehash of the American political cartoons dominating everything so I popped open my computer and up came a story from a UK paper that broke my heart. It was about Syrian refugee children holding up pictures of Pokemon characters hoping someone would find them and save them. Save the actual children. We are so disconnected from real humans in our virtual distractions we have distanced ourselves from actual reality.
How does it ever get better? There are, no doubt, really big thinkers trying to solve for sad and stupid and scary. I'm not one of those. But here's what I know I can do: I can simply write one note to one person in a place undergoing some horrific unexpected and unexplainable tragedy. One letter from one person to one person. Saying I don't know you but I am also touched by what happened to your son, father, baby, mother, brother, lover, best friend, community. I can find addresses of churches and police departments and hospitals and schools and bars and restaurants and I can send a note and say as a human sharing this increasingly small planet, I can't understand your pain but I feel some small, small piece of it.
Because the condition the human condition is in, needs each of us to connect and heal in the smallest of ways. One living, breathing, feeling, caring human at a time. I'm starting to gather addresses of various places on the planet where I think a note in the post could be needed. And I will start writing to hurting humans one at a time. It is the only thing I can think to do to help me breathe and stay connected this Sunday in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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