Wrapping My Heart Around the Atlanta Shootings

I stare at the bags under my eyes after a full night’s sleep. I feel the exhaustion permeating my body. I feel confused.

I know there are words, thoughts, feelings that need to be released, but I hesitate, struggling to find them, because I am scared. Scared of getting it wrong, scared of missing something, of not honoring the sacred material I wish to speak to. And I remind myself to be brave, strong, true. I remind myself that I am learning to create space for nuance.

It’s been 4 days since we lost the lives of 7 individuals to a white supremacist shooter (and 1 seriously wounded — GoFundMe for this medical expenses):

❤ Hyun Jung Grant, 51

❤ Xiaojie Tan, 49

❤ Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33

❤ Paul Andre Michels, 54

❤ Daoyou Feng, 44

❤ Soon C. Park, 74

❤ Suncha Kim, 69

❤ Elcias Hernandez Ortiz, 30 (survived)

I try to imagine what it would have been like to go from a typical Wednesday at work to complete terror and dread, to that moment right before you know you’re going to be killed, when you see your killer’s eyes and realize he sees you as less than human, the moments you lay there as you feel your life slip away, maybe making eye contact with another victim, a brief second passing as y’all both realize this is the end, maybe even a glimmer of hope that somehow you’ll make it.

I think of the families receiving the news, confused, shocked, horrified, devastated, changed forever.

I try so desperately to feel, because I am scared of the alternative — of the desensitization to white supremacist violence and mass shootings.

As I try to find my way out of detachment, I begin to see it all around me. I engage with family and friends, and although there is an intellectual awareness of the atrocious nature of this event, I do not feel the emotion behind that understanding.

I think about how easy it is for the average white American to not see themselves in these women, to see this violence as detached from their daily life. Because when someone doesn’t look like you, doesn’t have a similar life situation, when the threat remains purely hypothetical, it’s all too easy to see it as something that happened over there. Sad, yes, but not relevant to your day-to-day.

I attend a vigil for these women and man, and I watch as Asian American women cry as they describe their frustration and pain at this being what it takes for people to listen and pay attention, at the ways in which they’ve had to fight to simply be seen as human. And although I can feel my heart open as the tears begin to bubble up, I struggle to feel the heartbreak, and once again, I scare myself.

I lay in bed, holding my grandmother’s old rosary after scrolling through Instagram, and I wonder how people are able to post about their lives as though everything’s normal. I wonder how tragedy can be so easily accepted and moved on from. And once again, I am scared.

As I hold the rosary, I will myself to feel, because I don’t want to live in a country in which 8 people can be slain, and we can move on as business as normal.

Talking to a friend yesterday, the awareness continues to grow in me that we do not create space for collective mourning in the mainstream. We recognize something is bad and sad, but then we move on, because work still has to get done, right?

I think about how the glorification of profit and productivity continues to detach us from our own humanity, because mourning does not lend itself to productivity. It is the opposite— it is the choice to feel deeply and movingly for no other reason than because we need to. It is inherent in being human, vital in order to fully connect with our humanity.

I think about what America would be like if we allowed our hearts to break fully and deeply after every mass shooting. My first thought is: that would be exhausting. My second thought is: as it should be.

Where are we as a country when we can hear about a mass shooting in one minute, scroll onto other news and life events the next, and then proceed to go back to business as normal?

Mass murder becomes a talking point, and within a few days, it’s all but forgotten, tucked away in the long list of violence and murder in this country.

At the end of the day, it seems most white Americans see this incident as separate from them, unwilling or unable to see that we are a part of this. We are a part of the rise in anti-Asian sentiment, we are a part of white supremacist violence, we are a part of the normalization of gun violence and mass murder.

Let me be clear: I’m not expecting the average American to have answers as to what to do next. I’m not even looking for answers in this moment.

My desire is for Americans (especially white Americans) to feel.

To feel the loss, the violence, the sense of responsibility. We do not choose when our citizenship is relevant and when it is not. This country is 100% ours all of the time — the pain, the celebration, the joy, the destruction.

I think about the reflections of a German pastor following the holocaust — I will quote the shortened English version:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.

There are grand lessons we seem to be able to understand on an intellectual level that we to struggle to fathom on an emotional level. We need to see ourselves in each and every human, especially the ones who look the least like us, whose life paths feel the most unrelatable.

For these Asian American women are our sisters, they are a part of us. They woke up everyday with hopes and dreams and frustrations and hardship and struggle.

Xiaojie Tan had planned to go back to China to celebrate her 50th birthday with her family. Delaina Ashley Yaun had recently gotten married and had a 9-month baby waiting for her at home.

Their lives were as full as any of ours.

One of the moments that stood out to me during the vigil was a woman who said, “I imagine these women working long days, trying to create a good life for their family and trying to provide a little comfort for someone else.”

These women did not exist in a vacuum — they served their community, they sacrificed, they loved, they hoped, they dreamed, they cried, and they bled.

There is nothing normal about this. There is nothing okay about this. There is nothing acceptable about this.

If we never learn to mourn, how will we ever learn to heal? And if we never learn to heal, how will we ever stop the murder and violence? And if we never stop the murder and violence, how will we ever survive as a country, as a people?

I cannot accept the normalization of mass murder and white supremacist violence. I cannot accept the idea that we do not have the time or energy to mourn and grieve. I cannot accept the excuse of someone having a “bad day.”

I do not have answers.

I simply have a prayer — to feel deeply, fully, collectively. To find solace in each other. To find hope in rupture. To allow ourselves to be torn apart and pieced back together with more compassion, love, acceptance, strength, and willpower for change. So that this man and these women will have not died in vain.

❤ ❤ ❤

A reluctant optimist, I use writing to talk myself down from the perpetual threat of existential crises. https://beckitabrown.tumblr.com/ https://w