Joanna Tebbs Young
CIRCLES OF COMMUNITY
I realized this week that I have lost the ability to feel.
Manchester. Home of the famous soccer team, home of my childhood best friend’s mother. England, my birthplace. The attack at a pop concert where children the ages of my own children were killed and wounded should have reduced me to a puddle of tears. But it didn’t.
And now I realize, neither did the attack on Westminster Bridge in March. Just another day and another horrible attack.
It wasn’t always this way. Deep, deep, universal sadness sixteen years ago like I — and I would guess most anyone of my generation having lived in the relative safety of the United States — had never experienced before. Heartbroken tears of utter disbelief and horror over the Sandy Hook shootings five years ago. Then came the Boston Marathon bombing, San Bernadino, Paris, Brussels, Charleston, S.C., Freddie Gray, Trayvon Martin, Syria… the list is so long and the combined grief so overwhelming, it’s hard to process it all. And these are just the events given any attention.
As an aside, it is a testament to the power of writing that as I wrote that paragraph, the tears began falling and my heart is literally hurting. Phew, I am not emotionally dead after all. But that just begs the question which drew me to write about this issue in the first place: Why are my emotions harder to get in touch with than they have been in the past? Why does it take me writing an article about it to get the tears flowing?
I will hazard a guess, based on conversations I’ve had and articles and social posts I have read, that I’m not the only one who is feeling the way I am right now, and I believe I know why it might be this way for a large swath of the population. But for the purposes of this column — by definition a place to express the columnist’s personal opinion — I will speak only of my own experience.
Since the night of November 6, well, to be more precise, the morning of November 7 when I awoke to confirmation of the surreal reality of the rapidly spreading red on the map the night before, when never in my life have I felt such intense emotion over anything remotely political, it has been one long assault on the emotions.
I’ll admit I cried for days after the election. I felt physically ill. Since then, I have felt intense anger at so many things, but in particular at the hatred toward minorities and the “Other” thrown around and acted out; exhilaration after the Women’s March; disbelief at just about every word and action coming out of the White House; amusement at the insightful political humor pointing out the utter ridiculousness of an administration “running” on the whims of an ego-driven leader; fear at the possibility said leader will take us into war; and anger again, frustration, and, moreover, sadness at the seemingly complete lack of compassion for the very people whose lives and livelihoods the campaign rhetoric promised to make great.
I was obsessed for a while. Reading every article, watching all the news clips I could in one day, posting my anger on Facebook, responding to the anger of others. I dutifully emailed my representatives about certain issues and signed every poll bombarding my in-box, but quickly discovered this kind of political involvement in the face of the barrage of insults coming out of Washington could be a full-time job. I even went through a small existential crisis when I felt my own work was meaningless in the face of the immigration ban, and all that implied, and directly affected my community and those who had poured time, energy, and love into preparing for the Syrian refugees slated to come here. I wanted to help make a difference but I wasn’t sure how. Or if I even could.
After a few months of this constant immersion in the hot soup of intense emotion, I was exhausted. Exhaustion eventually gave way to numbness. I am drowning in everything by which I am horrified, disgusted, baffled, livid, incredulous and scared on a daily, sometimes an hourly, basis. Are we living in a matrix controlled by some dark comedian? I have wondered. The latest craziness surrounding Russia is just so movie-script I almost can’t believe it.
And that, right there, is exactly the problem. I don’t know that I believe anything anymore. The sheer number of never-before-heard-of theatrical and outright laughable moments is enough to make one doubt their own mind (a press secretary hiding in the bushes?!). We are being gaslighted and I hate to admit that it’s working. I am so confused by what I am being asked to think is normal — and “normal” changes every day — I have almost lost sight of my own true feelings.
And so, on the heels of another deadly attack, I seem unable to feel it as deeply as in the past I might have. And THAT makes me truly sad.
I wanted to end this on a more happy, hopeful note, but I find, in this moment, that would be disingenuous and gratuitous. Instead, I urge anyone who might be feeling the same as I am right now to dig deep and touch those overwhelmed emotions. Suppression of feeling makes one complacent. Complacency, history has shown, allows those hungry for power to stay on top.
I’ll end instead with this thought from a video by Martha Beck, where she quotes Toni Morrison: “Make art, that is how civilizations heal.” (Watch the whole amazing video here: vimeo.com/207183873)