I was instructed by a spiritual adviser to take some time and analyze the reason I am taking the horrific events of this past Friday so personally.
Why did he say this? Because I could hardly talk through my tears. Because I've pretty much been crying since early Friday afternoon.
I know most people wish they had never turned on the TV or gotten on the internet this past Friday. I myself only turned on the television because I wanted to watch The Chew for a little while after I ate lunch and before I got back to work. At that point the story was in its infancy, and I watched it develop for most of the afternoon. And cried a lot. And squeezed my daughter a little too hard and a little too long (wait, that's not possible...) when she got off the bus that afternoon.
When talking to the priest he asked if I knew a victim of the attack because my reaction was so strong. I don't. I do have a daughter in the first grade. But I also mentioned that I had a similar reaction to the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 because the ground floor of that building housed a child care. I didn't mention to him that I also had the same reaction this past fall when a school bus crashed into a semi truck near my home town, killing both drivers and two children. Based not on the news stories, but on accounts I heard from friends and family, I know that the first on the scene of the accident was the father of the semi driver, and that he left the side of his own son, who was already gone, to save the lives of the children on the bus. And when the child was killed during the assassination attempt on Gabby Giffords.
So yeah, it's pretty obvious what my triggers are- horrific things happening to children and the heroes who save them despite (as in the case of the bus crash) their own personal loss... and parents dealing with that loss.
The priest was concerned that, while it's natural for me to empathize with the parents in this most recent occasion, I obviously didn't have any children in 1995 (I was 14 when the Oklahoma City Bombing occured). And I didn't know the victims of the bus crash. While it's perfectly normal to be sad, it is detrimental to my own health and well-being to be so sad for so long (because as we speak I'm crying about the bus crash) about something so far removed from my own personal life.
Complicating the matter is the fact that most of the people who know me consider me to be... cold, for lack of a better word. I didn't cry at my own brother's funeral, except for a single tear when I hugged my dad. I can't tell you why, if it was something I did intentionally or subconsciously because it is now just a blur in my memory, but if I had to guess I would say that when personal tragedy hits I feel the need to be strong for the sake of others. Or perhaps I wall of my emotions because the pain is to great to feel all at once. I don't know.
Maybe it's easier for me to feel these more global events, events that don't affect me directly. I can feel the pain and cry and know that later, when I'm cleaning or making dinner, it's entirely possible that I will forget and be able to move on, even for a little bit. It's safer to feel when it's not my life. If I allow myself to feel and be moved by these events I don't take the risk of my own life crumbling around me.
I also feel, or at least I use this as my rationalization, that by remembering and allowing myself to be sad and feel for these parents and these children that I am honoring their memory by remembering them. People say "but what can you do?" and I say that being sad and feeling empathy and praying for these families is something- a pretty significant something. There is a huge part of me that gets angry at people who would rather ignore these horrible events and get on with their happy little lives than acknowledge them, even though I know that inasmuch as not crying at my own personal tragedies is my defense mechanism, ignoring these events is theirs.
Perhaps that is the basis of my prolonged sorrow over these events. Perhaps it has the same root as my NOT crying over my own tragedies- I am strong enough. I am strong enough to be there to support others when going through a tragedy together. I am also strong enough to handle watching and reading about and remembering the victims of this horrible event. Someone has to, and not everyone can. But I can.
I also know I'm not the only one struggling with this still. I caught 5 minutes of Kelly and Michael this morning before I turned off the TV and Kelly looked the way I feel (like she had been crying all weekend) and was obviously struggling to keep it together. And I'm certain others out there, particularly parents, are struggling with the same feelings. But even as I mourn these children I can see the tiny flicker of silver lining. We will appreciate our children more. We will appreciate their teachers and the sacrifices they make more. And hopefully we have some very serious conversations in the future about both gun control and mental health.