Against numbness

Emma Roller
Jun 13, 2016 · 3 min read

This feeling of helplessness isn’t new. Far from it.

What happened early Sunday morning at Pulse nightclub in Orlando has happened over and over in America, a result of the same two simple ingredients: a man with an indelible stain of hatred in his heart, and a weapon engineered to mow down a roomful of people in seconds.

When we hear another atrocity has happened, to the point when even the word “atrocity” has lost its potency, our natural reaction is numbness. “I can’t believe this is happening again,” you might think to yourself, until you realize that yes, you can believe it easily. Denial gives way to numbness, which gives way to exhaustion. You throw up your hands. We relive the same horror, the same hatred, the same grief, the same love, the same arguments, the same point-well-taken, the same both-sides-now conversations every month, and nothing ever gets done, so what’s the point?

Exhaustion is sensible; it makes perfect sense. Exhaustion is your mind shielding your body from succumbing to a deeper horror, adrenaline numbing your pain. But as a friend recently told me, exhaustion can also be used as a political weapon. Your exhaustion — your questioning if the pain is worth the gain — is the most effective tool the status quo has in its toolbox. Exhaustion, like complacency, is the body working to find comfort in a discomforting world.

But it’s not time to be exhausted. It’s not time to let your mind absolve your body of its pain. It’s not time to find a silver lining in the parade of horrors that traipse across the news chyron. Now is the time to to lean into our collective pain. Remember Newtown. Remember Virginia Tech. Remember Clackamas. Remember Brussels. Remember Paris. Remember Boston. Remember Aurora. Remember San Bernardino. Remember Oak Creek. Remember Colorado Springs. Remember Charleston. Remember Fort Hood. Remember Columbine. And now, remember Orlando.

Don’t just remember the sheer fact that violence happened — that children were gunned down in their classrooms, Batman fans in a movie theater, senior citizens at a Christmas party, worshippers at a black church or a Sikh temple, gay men and women celebrating love in what they thought was a place of sanctuary. Dwell on the faces of the men who did this — their calm, implacable faces. These are men who felt they had no other option than to spray their hate into the open. And our collective exhaustion is what allows them to keep doing it.

So don’t forget how you felt after you heard the news about Orlando — not today, or tomorrow, or a week from now, or three months from now. Lean into your pain. Don’t neglect it. Remember the feeling of numbness, but don’t succumb to it. The victims and their friends and families deserve not to be forgotten. The news cycle will wash over their stories, but you can choose not to abandon them. Be vigilant with your own feelings — not just for the victims, but for yourself. Never accept that this is how we have to live in America today.

To my queer friends — CP, JD, TG, LW, IH, ES, MJ, CW, JB, AS, GG, AQ, SM, MS, TL, ZS, CF, and more — I wish I could take your pain from you, hold onto it for safe keeping. I know I can’t do that, just as I cannot claim to understand your specific pain at a time like this. What I can do is tell you I love you more than you know. I can tell you that your pain is both important and unacceptable. I accept your pain into my heart, but I do not accept the root system that grew it. I can tell you that I will do whatever I can to make this country safe for you and the people you love, who I love by extension. I can lean into my own, lesser pain. I can try my best not to forget this day, but if I do, please remind me. For you, I can refuse to be numb. It is the very least I can do.

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