As I lay in my tiny apartment bedroom yesterday, curled up in a blanket, trying to squeeze a nap into an otherwise hectic day, my i-phone screen lit up with: “Breaking: Reports up to 12 dead, 20 wounded in California shooting.”
Suddenly I felt claustrophobic and all my emotions could not fit inside the small space I was in.
Didn’t we just go through this at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado? Why is this happening again? When will it stop?
These questions and more started piling up and stumbling over each other in my head, none of them answerable as the news stations themselves fumbled for the light switch, urgently sending out one uncertain update into the dark after another. It was like they were chasing their tails, going back and forth, editing mistakes in numbers and wording as they tried to get it right and put a string of coherent facts together.
(We now know that 14 were killed and at least 17 were left seriously wounded after armed attackers opened fire on people attending a banquet at a social services center for the disabled in San Bernardino, California)
New hashtags had begun trending on Twitter as people from around the world began blurting out their frantic reactions to yet another incomprehensible tragedy.
These kinds of horrific events catch us all off guard, over half eaten meals, coffee with a friend, standing in the lazy convenience store line, stuck in the middle of a shopping spree, bags in hand, feeling vulnerable and helpless, as somewhere in the world an ugly monster erupts from beneath the cracked surface, swallowing humanity deep into its stomach.
And we are left to stare into screens, refreshing twitter feeds and news pages, waiting for the answers.
“Shooting at my work. People shot.”
“Pray for us. I am locked in an office,” said a pair of texts a daughter sent to her father, who choked back tears as he read them aloud to reporters.
It was heartbreaking.
So, I picked the keys up from my desk, slipped into a warm coat and left my scatterbrained phone on the bed to go for a walk.
As a journalism student, I am all too familiar with the fast-paced nature of the news that calls for some quick calculations and thick skin. But sometimes it’s best, from where I’m standing, hundreds of miles away, to let other steady hands carefully pick up the pieces before trying to comprehend something so senseless.
There’s a coffee shop across the street from my apartment building; sometimes I enjoy sitting in it and watching people go by.
And in they come dressed in suits and ties, formal dresses, knitted sweaters and fur lined coats, clutching scarves against their chests as they shelter their hearts from the cold.
People have maps written across their faces, and if one pays close attention, it is possible to catch a glimpse of the smudged make-up in the shadowy corners of eyes outlining a barely choreographed early morning dance, or the reddened and sweaty cheeks of those who were caught in the clutches of revolving doors, impatient street corners and crowded walkways as they rushed to work.
One may even notice the chapped lips of those who suffer from too much worrying, constantly licking, holding back their words. Others have craters beneath their eyes as they drift off into these congested scenes, trying to predict the uncertainties crouching behind every trash can lined corner.
Sitting at the tables inside the coffee shop are people who stare desperately at their computers, fingers pounding away at the keys as they sweep through burdensome workloads, and next to them there may be the occasional person peering into an old book, comfortably tucked away inside the pages.
I don’t know where they’re all headed, but it comforts me to see them living, breathing, watching and waiting as they try to navigate the ins and outs of the same world I am sitting in.
Sometimes, I wish I could swallow everything before the monsters hiding beneath the earth can.
On my way home after leaving the coffee shop I took a small detour. The sun had gone down and holiday lights could now be seen hanging from trees and the entrances to subway stations, lighting up the tired old eyes of the city. Wreaths wrapped in bows and touched with ornaments decorated the facades of stores and buildings that I passed along the way.
This world is delicate, like the snow globe villages sitting on dressers next to beds, and it is hard to understand why someone would want to break it.
But, as I looked around I realized that these lights, decorations, busy streets, crowded shops and buildings with human beings nestled inside every corner are what we need to hold onto.
When tragedy strikes, our hands reach for the computer, newspaper, phone, TV remote, but sometimes the only thing they manage to find is another human hand.
We may never find the exact answers we're looking for.
Why do people do such terrible things? I don't know.
And maybe that's ok.
Maybe the only answers we really need are the ones found in places like the coffee shops sitting on street corners.
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