Sunday, October 8, 2017

In the ways that matter, we are each other

Who we are, still.
After 9/11, I went into a CVS to buy a curling iron and some light bulbs. On my way out, I glanced at the headline and photo on the cover of the New York Daily News. A boy of about five, wearing a yellow rain jacket was shown praying, his head bowed into tiny folded hands atop the coffin of his mother. 

I went to my car and wept, and wept for days, over this photo of the worst things in the world.

It wasn't like that this time. I was sad and depressed over Puerto Rico, and I was horrified and numbed by Las Vegas, but the feelings never rose and spilled over. 

I had fog, but no rain. I wondered what had happened to me. I worried that it might be happening to all of us. 

Last week, New Hampshire organized a food drive to help residents of Puerto Rico. On Wednesday, I took the list of "suggested items" to the store and while I shopped, I thought about the Las Vegas shooting and tried to grasp the loss; the children who lost parents, parents who lost children, friends and lovers who lost each other. 

I saw a photo on the way out of flowers, stuffed animals, and candles laid at the scene. Too familiar, now, this was.

A few nights ago,  right before bed, I read about the doctors and nurses who met the  unrelenting flow of injured patients in Las Vegas, many of them critical upon arrival, some who died right after.

"We just wanted to get them in and stabilize them," said one.

The massacre had already forced the disaster in Puerto Rico to the next rung down on the crisis ladder.

We can't keep up with them now, I thought; the disasters.

We can't stabilize. 

Up and down the streets surrounding the Statehouse in Concord, sandwich boards directed traffic: "THIS WAY TO DONATE."

Main Street had been closed off.   

On Capital Street, which runs along the south side of the Statehouse, a  line of orange cones divided the busy road and volunteers in fluorescent yellow vests,  four or five of them in wait, jumped to attention when a car pulled up.

They waved me forward.
"Thank you," each one said, as I passed.
"Thank you," was all I could say.

When I came to a stop in this make-shift drop off lane,  I was swarmed by helpers.
While they unloaded my car, I looked to my left where items were being organized for transport. Water, canned meats and vegetables, energy bars, food for infants.

I thought about the hands of those helpers. Sorting, piling, carrying, giving, offering.

I thought about the hands of the hopeful, and the hopeless, receiving my bag of dried fruits, my boxes of energy bars, a bottle of my water, my canned chicken. 
"Thank you," they'd say. Maybe they would be holding an infant, holding up an elder. 
I thought about a small child eating from a can of my peaches packed in water.

I thought about these miles and miles between their disaster and my spot in the drop off lane. And how, only a few weeks ago, we were all okay, before they were crushed. 

I thought about the Vegas victims in a different way now,  the morning they might have had, maybe one like mine, before it all blew up. Maybe they'd gone for breakfast, like I might have.  Maybe they'd dropped off items at a food drive, like I'd just done. 

I thought about the hands that helped them, the hands they held onto later that night. 

I cried then, to know I am these people before they lost each other.  I am these people before the unthinkable happened. This was not a shooting that happened far away at all, but one that was all around me. 

This has stayed with me. I am not letting it go.

It has hurt and healed my heart  to know, that if we have witnessed the unthinkable evil that a human can bring, we are discovering the unsinkable capacity for human connection, because of all we have in common - fear, compassion, courage, resolve, determination, spirit, and maybe more important than anything, vulnerability.  

We are these things. We are these people.  In the ways that matter, we are each other. 

God willing, we will never learn to be less.


  1. Wiping tear because yes, we are all one. Human. Vulnerable. Without uniting and compassionate leadership. We are overcome with too much loss.
    Beautifully sorted and eloquently presented.

    1. Thank you, Jo. This one was pretty packed with different feelings, so I appreciate that.

  2. Well stated Susan. It’s hard to make sense of all these tragedies. You provided a way to feel connected. Thank you!

    1. Thank you, Maureen. And I know there are people who feel "it takes a tragedy" to bring this connection about. But you can't bring out what isn't there; like you do, I think the wish to connect is within most of us, all the time.

  3. Beautiful post. Thanks for sharing.

  4. And now the tears are falling here, too. THIS IS US. Suddenly so much more than the title of a TV show.

  5. Thanks, Susan. Reading your words helps me believe in people. It's sometimes hard to do these day. But we must be strong in reaching out to one another. es, THIS IS US. Amazing.