Last Thursday night, four days after the deadly massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, I attended a vigil at the Q Center in Portland Oregon. Like many people, I had been moving through the week in a daze of grief, anger, fear and hopelessness, trying to wrap my brain around the complexity of the intersecting, colliding and exploding issues that ended in the horrific rampage. Over 100 shot and 49 killed, mostly LGBTQ, mostly under age 30, the worst massacre ever perpetrated by an armed US citizen with a legally purchased assault rifle designed to destroy as many people as possible in as short a time as possible.
I arrived at the crowed vigil a bit late, accompanied by my dear friend Dawn Menken. We circled the periphery, straining to hear, hugging people we knew and finding ourselves longing for something ineffable that we didn’t quite feel yet—more depth, deeper connection, a truly palpable sense of community. My emotions weren’t coming into any sharper focus now, at the gathering, than they had been all week.
How can I make sense of this? And should I? Should any of us even try? Does it make any sense at all to focus on hope—so-called positive outcomes? Like the outpouring of support for the LGBTQ community, the definitive attitude change in the US coming from the highest levels of government, the recent 15-hour filibuster in Congress that led to Republicans allowing votes on two gun measures, the coming together of leaders from Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths denouncing the blatant homophobia in the doctrines of their respective religions and vowing to challenge and update. A republican governor apologizing for his treatment and attitudes towards the LGBTQ community.
So what?—part of me was thinking. None of that matters in the face of so much death. At the intersection and collision of so much wrongness. Our country, the world, is getting scarier, especially for the most vulnerable and marginalized communities. Any small piece of good is much too little and way too late.
Dawn turned to me. “What would you say if you had the platform, she asked. What would you want to convey to the world?”
Typical Dawn. My brilliant friend. Elder. Teacher. Author. Activist. Inspirational speaker. Rarely shy to speak about what is most important. Amazing on the stage.
As we shared ideas, we found our central message to be much the same—not surprising after almost 40 years of friendship and 30 participating together in the development and practice of Processwork and Worldwork.
In that precise moment, a young woman from Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) approached us with a recording device. “I’d like to interview you both on your thoughts about Orlando.”
Crazy world. Something wished us to speak.
I don’t know if any piece of our interview made it on the air. But our message wants out—a small addition to the multiple perspectives and actions.
Here it is…
There are many killers. Get to know them as best as you can. Get to know the outer killer in all of his complexity, confusion and conflictedness. And while you’re at it, get to know the killer inside.
For example—on the inside: Every time I look in the mirror, scrutinize and tell myself I’m old and less significant, I kill a piece of myself. Every time I choose not to speak, not to say what’s on my mind, share my passion, my perspective, my love or my strong disagreement about something essential, I kill a part of myself. Every time I try to fit in or be what others expect, or what my inner pusher demands, when it’s not coming from my authentic self, I make myself less alive. Every time I say: don’t write this Jan, it’s trivial—I annihilate a small piece of my joy and reason for living.
That’s a lot of needless destruction.
Find the ways that you do this. Study the obvious and subtle ways you bully yourself. Notice the self-hatred, internalized homophobia, the way you might criticize your gender experiences or sexuality, appearance, age, looks or intelligence. Or perhaps something else.
Let’s stop the killing where we can: inside ourselves!
And on the outside: Let’s get to know the bully/ killers we read about and endlessly discuss. We’ve got to get to know what makes them tick. We’ve got to talk to them and dialogue. Whether they take form as a depressed lone wolf of any faith, an ISIS fighter or a megalomaniacal, fascist presidential candidate, we can’t easily get rid of them. They need our attention. And urgently!
Because in order to be driven to kill, they have already been killed inside. Something within them has died. Just like you and I when we are hurt, or hurt ourselves—but way more extreme.
We can kill the killers, or be happy when they finally kill themselves. We can imprison and isolate them. We can shout them down and exclude them from our rallies and gatherings in order to create safe protected spaces for those of us with like minds. Occasionally we succeed. But they seem to find a way back in. And when they do, we discover they are like us in surprising ways.
We can only do it together. With people we like and who are like us, and with people we don’t like and who we think we are not.
Please, do everything you’re doing: Every social action. Every safe space. Keep crying. Keep dancing.
And also do this.