In the Wake of Tragedy, Give Presence

I bet if you weighed the world a week ago and weighed it again today, it’d be heavier. Much heavier.

It’s heavy with the fierce hatred and natural disasters that destroyed lives in a flash, without warning or reason.

It’s heavier still from the paralyzing grief that has taken hold of the mourners left behind. In Ohio the heavens are blue and cloudless today, but I know for so many people, in France, Beirut, Mexico and Japan, the sky is barely visible through their tears.

We plan out our lives so sensibly. We envision milestones, families and weddings and careers, for one another and for ourselves. It’s breathtaking, devastating, when those dreams dissolve at the onset of an earthquake or the will of a vile terrorist.

This weekend at a conference for my collegiate service fraternity, we were asked to do something many find uncomfortable. The presenter asked us to find a partner in the room, someone we didn’t know, and embrace them. There was nervous laughter at first, but you could feel everyone’s spirits lifting. He spoke of the importance of physically being there for our brothers, and how chest to chest contact actually spurs the release of endorphins in the body.

Then, he asked us to do something even more peculiar. To look, unwaveringly, into the eyes of that stranger. Standing inches apart. Toe to toe.

At first it was difficult to settle into, my brown eyes gazing into the stranger’s blue ones. The sense of presence that eye contact creates is startling. I may never see him again, but for a few moments, we were there for each other. We truly saw one another.

After a heart wrenching, horrific week, this simple act of presence meant so much more to me. We do not see each other, nor feel truly seen by others, nearly as much as we should.

I think everyone can agree that we are feeling incredibly human right now. To be human means to be vulnerable and breakable, yes. But to be human means so much more. To be human is also to be empathetic and resilient and compassionate. Each heinous act that occurred this week has been answered by ten more acts of courage. I do my best not to forget that.

To the young father in Lebanon, Adel Termos, who jumped on a suicide bomber and put hundreds of strangers’ lives before his own, I see you.

To the French responders who rushed in to free hostages in the Bataclan knowing they could never come back, I see you.

To the citizens of Paris who opened their doors in shelter to anyone on the street despite the danger, I see you.

To those who continue to uphold the dignity of the Muslim people and reject bigoted, false sentiments about an entire religion, I see you.

No words or Facebook filters can bring the victims back. But for those of us still breathing, there is work to do. Today, and every day we are lucky enough to have, we must truly see each other. And we must work to make the world lighter again, one act, one word, one moment at a time.

-Bridget

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