Are we grappling with the mental illness of a nation? In Las Vegas, a 64 year-old white man murdered 59, and injured hundreds, with no apparent motive. Yet, it was premeditated. He accumulated a small arsenal, and he turned his hotel room into a makeshift bunker. Most of his victims were also white. The carnage took place at a country music festival. There are “no apparent ties to terrorism” claims the sheriff. We cannot make sense of it. We don’t know where to place blame as we’re too afraid as a country to blame the gun lobby or for easy access. So, scratching our heads, with a moment of mourning, we bury our heads in the sand once more, and pray.
Since when does terror require ties? Terrorism works by intentionally inciting violence to create intimidation and terror, fear for our bodies or our lives. Wasn’t Stephen Paddock, then, a terrorist?
Once again, we throw our hands in the air and we plead helplessness and a lack of understanding when to look deeper would create tremendous discomfort. Our nation is traumatized, and like individuals who’ve experienced trauma already know, the fight, flight and freeze responses are characteristic of being overwhelmed by trauma.
We fight when we arm up, blame out, light our torches and post hate-filled flyers. We freeze when we fail to propose gun safety measures, refuse to stand up to the NRA and default to thoughts and prayers.
To be honest, we’re running out of places to flee to, and we know it. Our heads become more deeply buried in the sand as we try to move on with our lives, more shaken even than we were yesterday, afraid for our futures and those of our children. It seems cruel that life goes on as if we didn’t just lose 59 more lives. Yet it goes on. With an air of automation we carry on, a little more dull, more deadened than before.
We are turning off the news to protect ourselves from the onslaught of trauma and grief. We’ve stopped making our phone calls to legislators out of fatigue and perceived helplessness. We are running out of funds to donate for emergency relief efforts. We hold our children closer, and we hide more and more in our own makeshift bunkers. The traumatized, the vulnerable, the targeted, are retreating in whatever physical and emotional ways we can.
Yet, in the face of bullying what works is direct confrontation, the courage to say “no” and consequences for their behavior. We are in a unique time in our nation’s history when the targeted greatly outnumber the bullies. Yet the bullies hold the power, and when they don’t want to see themselves as terrorists, they shrug their shoulders and claim to not know a motive. Bullies abuse because they can. It feeds the ego of the narcissist to keep control at any cost, and to blame you for your plight.
It is not safe to carry on with our lives as if they are not at risk. Trauma finds healing when it is shared, and we cannot do that until we lift our heads up and find each other’s eyes. Let us risk using our voices together and stand up for the right to live together peaceably.
Sharlene B. Kerelejza is executive director of Meriden-Wallingford Chrysalis.