I have no words. As someone who has built her career on her ability to use words effectively and well, this simple statement is both humbling and terrifying. But those emotions are simply reactions to the other emotions that threaten to engulf me. Today, on this Sunday of what has been an eternally long weekend, I am filled with pain and sadness, helplessness and fear, sympathy and empathy, righteousness and anger, fatalism and passion, loneliness and solidarity.
This weekend, I’ve struggled to find the words to explain to an eight-year-old how hatred and bigotry can lead to violence and death. To explain why freedom of assembly and freedom of speech is something worth celebrating even when the people who exercise it are hateful and wicked. How we have the right and obligation to stand up against the beliefs of others even as we also defend their right to speak. How defending those rights does not mean that you defend or condone how it turns to violence.
Closer to home, I was twice reminded that I have friends fighting internal battles – of which I’m not always aware – and that they don’t always win. This weekend, I caught a glimpse of the enormity of internal struggles I can’t comprehend.
In the never-ending battle against bigotry and hatred, lately it feels like the “other side” is gaining ground. Meanwhile, there are millions out there trapped in their silent battles, and sometimes, despite love and support, battles are lost.
This weekend reminded me that there are ideals for which we need to be vigilant about fighting. And that while we cannot control the actions of others, we can control how we react to them. For example, a friend chose to remember our lost soul by the joy he brought us. And my daughter recalled that “character” was the measure by which we judge a man, not the color of his skin.
We can raise our voices against violence and bigotry. We can raise our standards for acceptable behavior in society without advocating censorship. We can raise awareness for and devote more funding toward mental health and addiction resources for those fighting their silent battles.
On a smaller scale, we can also choose to remember that “those people” don’t exist, only individuals do. That we can start a conversation assuming we have common ground rather than assuming we don’t. We can show by how we live our lives that these hate-filled rallies don’t define America.
Let’s remember – or create – an America that embraces diversity – of opinion, of race, of lifestyle, of religion – rather than shuns it. An America that believes that supporting others through their struggles isn’t a sign of weakness but of humanity. An America that believes that we have a moral obligation – to the world, to our children, to each other, and to ourselves – to condemn not only the individuals who actively commit violent acts, but also those who silently condone them, to be realistic about the state of our world and aggressively work toward solutions, to fight for an idealistic future even if it’s unattainable. To build an America and a world we want to leave to our children and, failing that, to give them the tools to use and the foundation upon which they can continue the fight.
When words fail, action – and compassion – can take their place.