Vincent Van Gogh's "Sorrowing Old Man (At Eternity's Gate)"; St.-Remy, 1890
Vincent Van Gogh’s “Sorrowing Old Man (At Eternity’s Gate)”; St.-Remy, 1890

My friend, Jodi Chromey (aka Supergenius) has written a few posts lately about how people are quite capable of holding lots of thoughts in their heads and emotions in their hearts, mostly in response to recent social media pressure to uniquely articulate or honor (or whatever) each and every awful headline that’s been served up to us of late. Apparently people will hate on you if you’re still thinking about the awful thing that happened last week, as opposed to this week. And it seems they’ll cut you zero slack if you ignore all awful things and just want to think or talk about stuff like how irritating your sister’s been or how you wish for once someone else would make dinner.

I happen to love social media. If I had all these toys (phone, Twitter, Facebook) when my kids were little they would have grown up with an absolutely absent mother. (Let’s not ask them whether they think that would have been an improvement on what they got.) But I will agree with Jodi in this regard: there are lots of opinions out there about how we should sorrow. Love France, hate Syria, love Syrians, love refugees, hate refugees, love the Lebanese, hate cops, hate racism, love freedom of the press. My head is spinning with how many ways I could get this wrong.

Friend and writing mentor Alison McGhee has a good answer for how to get all of it right in her blog this week: Don’t hate. Be kind. Yes. Yes. But sometimes we just want to hate, don’t we? Do people ever deserve to be hated?

Roxane Gay has written an article for the New York Times, “The Seduction of Safety, on Campus and Beyond” that helped me sort out the whole Mizzou thing, and a few other things, too.

All good ideas, she writes, can be exploited. There are some extreme, ill-advised and simply absurd manifestations of the idea of safe space. And there are and should be limits to the boundaries of safe space. Safe space is not a place where dissent is discouraged, where dissent is seen as harmful. And yet.

Yes. And yet.

I know there’s no room for hate in the world and yet so far nobody’s come to my rescue with how to wrap my head around these terrorist attacks in France and Beirut. On the news today they interviewed a perhaps 3-year-old child in Paris who thought maybe his family needed “a new house,” and that the flowers he and his father had just placed weren’t as strong as the weapons the “mean people use.” And, by he way, who hasn’t noticed that the attacks in France got a lot more press than those in Beirut? I think I don’t know what to think about that.

Now in Minneapolis we’ve got another young black man shot by police. Maybe he was interfering with EMT’s trying to help his girlfriend, who I read was injured from his attack. Maybe that’s wrong, and just someone’s imposed rationale. Some say he was handcuffed before the cop shot him. Maybe I’m wrong to think any of it, besides the shooting, matters one way or the other. Maybe I’m an old white woman and will never really get it.

I’m just so sad about so many things right now, not the least of which is that I can’t seem to form an opinion without having another, exactly opposite opinion wander around in my brain at the same time. I think it’s what Jodi was saying, though: it happens. To humans. If there were easy answers to any of these questions, the problems would have been solved ages ago.

So maybe we should just give it up, folks, for some old-fashioned, personalized sorrowing.  I’ve abandoned a very good book for some pure schlock. I cry when I feel like crying, which is pretty often. I am far quicker to anger than usual, so watch out. I am also far quicker to despair, which means I’d better watch out.

In time it will stop raining and we may find we can think a little more clearly.

In the meantime, I think we should allow ourselves not to know what we think, and allow ourselves to make mistakes figuring it out. I think we should try very hard to forgive the mistakes everybody makes while we all try to figure stuff out. Maybe we could all promise not to jump down each other’s throats while we’re just so damn sad. Maybe we could be kind and suggest to each other, kindly, other ways to think.

Maybe then people would feel free to talk, and learn from each other.

That would be one less thing to sorrow over.




  1. Nicely articulated, Donna. I think it’s important to have conflicting thoughts in our heads. That means we’re challenging ourselves, playing devil’s advocate with ourselves, so to speak. I find at times like this I just want to retreat and do some private contemplation in order to sort it all out.

  2. Yes. Every word of this. I can’t stand the violence, the judgement, the social media policing. I didn’t change my picture, I never do . . . because honestly I can’t deal with knowing when to change it back, so I just never change it. Does that mean I don’t care? That I don’t realize there is real s#!t going on when I post about some recipe I’m trying. Well, of course not. (I’m not saying this to you–saying it in general.)

    Side note . . . some people were so worried about me going to Israel. Sadly, we Jews have a bit of a head start learning to live our lives and not let the terrorists scare us into not living. Sadly, no place feels safe anymore. What was “hilarious” was seeing posts blaming—you guessed it–the Jews for the attack on Paris. Happened after 9/11 too. (Not from rational people, of course. But that’s what we’re dealing with out there.)

    Oy– sorry to get so dark here. I did the same thing over at Angela’s. This was such an intellectually honest and thoughtful post. None of us has the answers, but it’s great that we can at least talk.

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