On Tuesday, I spoke with a gentleman who needed to vent his feelings about the Israeli attacks by Hamas. He wanted to share his thoughts and opinions and hoped for my presence in his words. I confess that I wasn’t as present as I could have been. I’ve had a lot on my mind. This is a humbling period of time for me. It does not feel comfortable. My mind has been consumed by various concerns, including the fear-driven doubts about my own value and worth. Lately, the relentless critical thoughts have taken center stage. I am also grappling with sadness as I navigate my emotions alongside anger and fear.
My father came into town a few days ago. It was a beautiful visit. One which I feared would be fraught with tension and anger. He came to visit us with no other intention than to connect and love us. The visit reminded me of my hometown, emphasizing how out of place I sometimes feel in Colorado, which has never truly been my home.
The gentleman in front of me spoke of his feelings about the atrocity in Israel, the way the situation was affecting him, and his own discomfort around it. As an aside, I didn’t hear from him a sense of compassion for those whose homes were invaded, and for those who were kidnapped, and for those who watched their children die. I was not captivated by his venting. I was not pulled in. I did not witness someone speaking from the heart. This doesn’t excuse my lack of presence. But it does inform me as I write, why perhaps, I could not be fully attentive. It felt as though he was embodying righteousness. A performative righteousness. When I witness folks speaking from the heart it is captivating, and it is motivating. This was neither.
As he concluded his thoughts, he looked at me and offered a slight smile. “You, uh, you don’t seem to care or be affected by any of this.” I heard his words and was truly taken aback. I felt shock and anger stir within me. This is progress for me. Normally, I’d accept a projective statement like that, and take it on as truth, my truth. Instead, anger rose and informed me this was a “no.” I wish I could tell you I gave a powerful reply back, but I didn’t. I was kind, too kind. I said “of course I do.” but the shock still coursed through me. It’s challenging to handle shock and anger simultaneously without letting anger become projective and violent. I took a breath and continued, I said to him “I think it’s unfair to say that people do not care about this. People feel helpless. Can you tell me what we should do? Can you tell me what you can do about this?” There was no reply. He quickly moved on muttering something about it being a hard situation. His words, once again, felt performative.
As I reflect on that moment, I see how detrimental we can be to each other. Quick judgments, imposed as truth, and the swift judgments we place on others. Fear drives this. It’s an automatic response to look at others and find them not measuring up to our moral code about worthiness and value. It’s a way to soothe ourselves from the fear that we have no worth or value. I once had a client say to me “we make each other sick.” She isn’t wrong.
I often discuss this with my clients, about the vast parts of people’s lives we aren’t privy to. If we could see all of it, life could change. I think of the movie “Crash,” which portrays a violent and racist cop, played by Matt Dillon. We watch him physically and psychologically torment a young black couple during a traffic stop. However, we also see him gently and compassionately care for his ailing father in the morning, a glimpse of his true self. Writing about this brings tears, and it’s happening more often these days, but I won’t analyze it too much. I just know it feels good, and the grief is here, and I’m with it.
The same night after speaking with this gentleman, I sat on my couch after my children had gone to bed and I read the horrifying stories from Israel. My mind was focused on reading stories of families with children. I read the story of a young couple with infant twins who hid them inside of their home as they were invaded by Hamas. By some miracle, the twins were not found, but the couple was shot and killed. I read of another story of a family who hid in their shelter. They heard the invaders make their way through their home, and they heard them approach the shelter door. The children hid under the bed, and somehow the father was able to forcefully keep them from opening the door to the shelter. He kept an army of men from opening that door. How? While a logical explanation may exist, my spiritual side inclines towards the belief that celestial intervention played a role. This raises the question: why does intervention occur for some but not for others? However, I hesitate to delve into that particular realm of inquiry.
That night as I immersed myself in story after story, I reflected on the beautiful details of my children’s faces and their bodies. My son’s startling blue eyes with pink cheeks. His thin, active body that never stops moving. His ability to make me laugh hysterically. My daughters' beautiful brown eyes and her newly pierced ears. A birthday present for her 7th birthday. Little pink hearts. Her beautiful imagination and the way she plays through life, exploring who she is.
I couldn’t resist the urge to check on them, and as I stood in their doorways, a surge of both grief and fear washed over me. I gently peeled back the ballerina-patterned comforter that my daughter was snuggled under, and I carried her into my arms. “It’s okay babe, you can come sleep with me tonight.” “Okay mom.” she sleepily agreed.
While she slumbered peacefully beside me, I found no respite in sleep. My mind revisited his words: “you don’t seem to be affected or care about any of this.” It’s not a reflection of my truth. If it aligns with his beliefs or anyone else’s perception of me, I won’t invest my energy in what’s evidently someone else’s misconception and unfounded, damaging fear projected onto me.
This piece is primarily a personal reflection, and I’m sharing it because perhaps someone might find it resonates with them. My intention in sharing this is to exemplify how our core selves often reveal that people are far more complex than the hasty labels we attach to them. Additionally, I teach the women who work with me to shed their social masks and courageously embrace vulnerability. We could all benefit from more people stepping up and sharing their truths. Regarding the situation in Israel, I don’t possess a ready answer or plan, though I genuinely wish I did. I feel helpless and small in reference to this, and I imagine some of you do as well. If you have insights from the heart on what can be done and wish to discuss, I’m open to engaging and listening. However, I won’t engage in discussions filled with performative righteousness, nor will I tolerate those who embody it.