the rip

Tornado-national-geographic-6968506-1280-1024I can’t quite wrap my mind around the images I’m seeing and the words I’m reading about the devastation in and around Oklahoma City. After a point, you stop trying. You just let all the horror wash over you and hope everybody will get through it as best they can. You hope you don’t drown in it yourself. You hope to rise to the top of it all and float.

A 21-year-old woman who grew up in Shawnee, Oklahoma, reportedly said, upon seeing her childhood home reduced to rubble and finding her mother bruised after being tossed around by the tornado in her home (and I’m sure, at that point, blissfully unaware of how many lives were lost), said, “I’m feeling cheated, to be honest… like, it’s just all gone.”

And rescue teams and local and state officials ask us all to send our prayers.

I wonder if when sending prayers, what we’re really doing is sending thoughts and hopes for peace and acceptance of what’s happening, so that nobody sinks. So that nobody is weighed down, by anger, by defeat, by grief.

***

Not a few people have noted recently that I seem relatively calm given the uncertainty our family is facing, given the amount of time I’m alone with our children with their dad so busy working or traveling. Given the health challenges of my family members. Given the stress. Given the unfairness of it all. I’ve been told I seem “at peace,” and I’ve been asked where that sense of peace comes from. (I’m not known to be an overtly spiritual person. Our family doesn’t go to temple, our kids don’t go to Hebrew school.)

This weekend, after my husband had been away for a week and I spent my evenings on line looking at real estate and my days volunteering at the school as if my life depended on it, I was not at peace. I felt a little raw, and rather unhappy. I wanted my husband to come home and say, definitively, “Here is what will happen.” But he couldn’t, and I knew that. But I wanted him to do it, because the “not knowing” was becoming unbearable to me. I was starting to feel cheated (as in, “I don’t know what to expect or plan for next month, let alone next year.”). I was starting to feel that this is all ridiculously unfair (as in, “My husband and his colleagues work too hard to be expected to bide their time like this, it’s torture.”).

I was starting to feel anger, coupled with… aggression. Undirected, unfocused aggression. I was fighting it. All of it. Whatever the F it is. It started to affect my behavior, my fuse was short, I was snapping at the kids. We talked about going out to dinner but my husband thought I seemed pretty tired. I said, “No, I’m not tired. I’m just kind of … down. Aren’t you down?”

“No, I’m not. I just don’t want to be unhappy.”

Hmm.

“Well, I need you to help me be happy.”

“Help you? Well, we live here, it’s sunny, there’s the beach, we have healthy kids, money saved, we’re okay. We know what will happen. We just don’t know when. It’s not so bad.”

Hmm.

***

rip_imageA friend wants us to plan a moms/kids outing to the beach once school lets out. She has four kids to my two. We figure we can tag team it and make sure everybody is safe and still has fun. I told her how I usually rely on my husband to be out in the water with the kids, as he’s a stronger swimmer and generally a more relaxed person. We exchanged beach time strategies for a bit, and then she asked me whether I’d explained to my kids what a rip tide (rip current) is. I had not.

She said, “Just tell them not to fight it and not to swim to where they want to be–the beach–but swim next to where they want to be, parallel to the shore. They’ll get further out, but once the water calms, they’ll be able to swim back in.”

***

I think this plan, along with my husband’s nature, is my source of peace:

Don’t fight. Do something–even if it’s not what you expect to do or really want to do. Be patient.

Even the most peaceful beaches can have rips.

***

(From Wikipedia: A rip current is a strong channel of water flowing seaward from near the shore, typically through the surf line. The flow can be as fast as 8 feet per second, faster than any human swimmer…They can occur at any beach with breaking waves, including oceans, seas, and large lakes… A swimmer in a strong rip, who is unable to swim away from it, should relax and calmly float or tread water to conserve energy. Eventually the rip will lose strength, and the swimmer can swim at a leisurely pace, in a diagonal direction, away from the rip but back to shore.)

accepting the impotence

This week is awful, overall.

Sunday started with the general unease I usually feel when my husband is flying across world, which is compounded by the tremendous uncertainty we feel about our next geographical move in the next unknown number of months, exacerbated by an only slightly irrational worry about the threatened actions by North Korea (my husband’s flying home through South Korea tonight).

At times like these I turn into quite a mope, and then I rally, and feel ashamed of myself for my self-pity, and I get on with life. It usually takes a couple hours to get through this little process (and it is generally accompanied by vigorous housecleaning. Our house is really clean.).

But then there was Monday afternoon. I found out about the Boston Marathon bombings from a fellow mom at a park. The kids and I got home, and I glued my face to my computer monitor. I called or contacted everybody I knew in the New England area, including my mother-in-law, who was en route from California and rarely hears from me by cell phone (“Hi Mom, just calling to see how you are… couldn’t remember if you’re flying into Boston… Safe and good travels!” ??? She called back and I explained my weirdness. She’s a kind soul.)

And then there was Tuesday, learning about an 8-year-old boy, and a 29-year-old woman, and a graduate student, and reading about emergency room doctors and orthopedic surgeons and first responders.

And then Wednesday, watching a major news organization implode upon itself. Seeing our Senate fail, utterly fail, the nation. Most Senate Republicans and four Senate Democrats, to be exact. And then watching an explosion in Texas (now treated as a crime scene), via a cell phone video of a man with his child. Hearing that child’s reaction.

What am I doing to myself? A more sensible person might tune out a bit, or compartmentalize more, just to be able to get to sleep. But right now, I am drowning in these feelings of… despair? dismay? disgust?

Then I read this:

Processing The Pain « The Dish.

In writing about the Boston Marathon bombings, the Dish reader says:

Your recent post on vengeance prompted this email. My Facebook wall has been telling me that I should “fight darkness with light” (and I agree); that I should use this attack to extend my circle of empathy to overseas massacres occurring against people who are unlike me (I also agree); that I should focus on the people who helped instead of the person who committed the massacre (and I remain in agreement). And yet I don’t just feel “sadness,” I actually feel hate.

That’s it. That’s it exactly. That’s the feeling.

I hate the person(s) responsible for the Boston Marathon bombings. I hate the Senators who blocked simple, wildly supported gun safety assurances (including those who purposefully and stupidly support them for the sake of money or some warped sense of “rights.”). I hate whoever was responsible, through malice or negligence, for the West, TX, fire and subsequent explosion.

And it’s ugly. And far worse, “impotent,” as the writer above notes.

Or maybe not quite.

There are these ugly sides of ourselves, there are feelings in each of us that are tapped under certain mixes of circumstances. They can make you shake with rage, seethe, clench your jaw, cry, and sit in a stupor on your couch as you watch the endless news coverage.

Exhausting you.

I tried this new workout routine yesterday. One part included doing push-ups, military style, to “the point of failure.” I’d never really tried that before; I’ve only recently managed to do as many as Jillian Michaels does in her circuit training workouts… about 15 at a time?… and my chest has never been terribly close to the ground. But I did it yesterday, in as manly a fashion as I could. I stopped counting after 22 because I thought my shoulders would fall out of their sockets. I “failed,”  and then just lay there on my mat. Exhausted. Weakened? But then I got up and finished the rest of the workout.

This week will be over soon. And all the ugliness and impotence of hate will give way to a renewed level of purpose and strength.

It always does, for most of us. For me.