The Next One

At 8:45 this morning, I walked my kids to school in a daze, wet hair, an undrunk cup of coffee in my hand. I’d checked the news when I’d woken up – not the moment my eyes opened, because that’s a promise I made to myself awhile back, but shortly afterwards – and wasn’t surprised. I’m heartbroken for the victims, but not flooded with tears the way I was after Orlando, or Nice, or, god, Sandy Hook. This is normal now.

So I wake up, and it’s just another morning reading about death, nothing to do but walk out into the kitchen and tell my husband the latest terrible news, hear him sigh, and then stand there with him in silence while we empty the dishwasher because there’s nothing to say that we haven’t already said.

I was planning to write something or other about loungewear this morning, but I don’t want to anymore. On the walk back home from school dropoff I stopped next to a tree and reached out and held onto a leaf, then went up on my tiptoes and pressed it to my cheek so I could feel it against my skin. I wondered briefly whether a neighbor might be watching and whether I looked crazy, and then didn’t care, and stopped thinking about that. A crow called out way above my head, and the sound was so loud it might have been cawing straight into my ear. I don’t see or hear these things very often; I think that’s why they struck me the way they did – it’s just that I’d forgotten to bring my phone with me this morning, and I had nothing else to do.

Ever since I got home I’ve been cleaning: Doing load after load of laundry, picking bits of fluff out of the carpets, organizing all the deodorants and pill bottles and toothbrushes just to see them standing in straight lines.

I don’t talk about religion much here, because it’s a topic with more potential to alienate than politics, even, and I think I do enough alienating on that latter point already. I don’t know even how to write the world “spirituality” without being able to feel you cringing from all the way across the Internet because you’re waiting for the pretension and preachiness to start; waiting to be made to feel like whatever it is that you believe is silly, or misguided, or bad. That seems to be how most conversations that involve spirituality play out, in my experience, and so I’ve always tended to opt out of the whole thing.

Except these past couple of years, they’ve made me believe in…something. Not God, or heaven, or anything like that; something more fundamental. Something that seems to be missing – from me, at least. And if I feel that way, maybe others do, too.

These people who are driving trucks through crowds and pointing automatic weapons at concertgoers: I have to believe there’s something more at play here than the fact that they’re “crazy” or “evil” – something more, even, than terrorism (and yes, what happened in Vegas was terrorism – let’s please remember that white people are fully capable of committing terrorist acts). I think their anger – so overwhelming that it erupts in these devastating, inhuman ways – comes from the profound fear that they are powerless. And I think this fear makes sense in a world that has set us all up to believe that the only things that give a person meaning – the meaning that we’re all looking for, no matter who we are or what we believe in – are things. More specifically: Things that are, by their very nature, virtually inaccessible to most of the residents of this country, despite the fact that they’ve been taught that if they’re not getting what they want, it’s either their fault or someone else’s.

Someone new will take the wheel in the near future – whether in a few weeks, a few months, or three years – and I hope so much that someone realizes that we need something more than infrastructure or lower taxes or lots of money to spend on Christmas presents. I can’t believe that I’m saying this – me, the kid who stood up in front of her first-grade class and declared herself an atheist; the one who spent a lifetime shutting down any conversation about God or belief systems with an eye-roll and the blanket statement “religion is what’s wrong with the world” – but I think we might need a spiritual leader right now. A Dalai Lama. A Gautama Buddha. A Martin Luther King, Jr.

There’s this book we’ve been reading to our kids lately – Zen Shorts, the book I mentioned the other day – and in it there’s a tale of an old man who lives very simply, in a tiny house with few belongings. One night a robber breaks into his house, and is surprised to find the old man at home. “Welcome, come in, come in!” says the old man. The robber turns to flee, but the old man never lets anyone leave his home empty-handed, so he sets about searching the hut for a gift. Finding nothing, he takes off his old, tattered robe – his only robe – and gives it to the robber, who takes it and escapes into the night. The old man walks outside, sits down, and looks up at the moon casting its light across the mountains. “Poor man,” he thinks to himself. “All I had to give him was my robe. If only I could have given him this wonderful moon.”

We need someone who understands that story, and thinks it’s beautiful.


Nevada residents who want to help can donate blood at centers throughout the state (click here for a list). If you’re not local, a donation to the Red Cross always helps, or you can can donate money to the National Compassion Fund, which distributes aid directly to victims of mass crimes. And please: Call your representative and talk to him or her about gun laws both in your state and nationwide; click here to find your Congressperson’s number. Remember, open carry, concealed weapon, and machine guns are all still legal in Nevada.

Also, if you’re feeling paralyzed by the many, many organizations that need your help right now, that’s normal. Just remember: One action at a time. (Sign up for ResistBot by texting RESIST to 50409. It helps.)

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