I’ve heard it said that you never forget where you were or what you were doing when an event occurs that changes everything. Growing up in the 70s and 80s, I had little reference for large scale traumatic events that left you standing still and shaking from head to toe.

That all changed on  April 20,1999.

I will never forget shutting the door to my office, gathering around a radio with my coworkers and listening as the reporter released the minimal details of an unknown shooter that had just unleashed hell on Columbine High School, just an hour north of where we lived.

I will never forget the early morning of September 11, 2001. I was dressing my little ones for school when I heard my husband shouting for us all to come downstairs. As we rounded the corner, he whispered in disbelief, “A plane just hit the World Trade Center.” We stood in front of the TV with our five small children, all of us with our hands over our mouths watching in real time in as an unknown enemy rained down terror on our country and murdered our fellow Americans.

No one went to work; no one went to school.

We held each other close in our homes, united as a nation in empathy for the fallen and anger toward the terrorist. There was a strange fear and silence that covered our land, echoed by the haunting, empty sky above us that was bereft of the typical planes flying over our house. Stores closed and the highways were eerily vacant. My generation had never seen such bloodshed on our own land.

We all remember right where we were and exactly what we were doing the day the world stopped spinning.

This past year has inundated us with pictures of brother against brother, neighbor against neighbor in both peaceful and violent protest over politics, race, equality… Over everything it seems. Social media is no longer simply a place to share pictures of grandchildren that live in another state, an encouraging quote to bring life to the hurting, or a silly video that makes you laugh out loud and revives your energy. It is now a hotbed of anger, sarcasm, hurt, judgement and snarky comments. The vileness is invading our homes, our relationships, our workplace and our communities.

Everyone has an opinion, and now with the click of a button it can be heard around the world in an instant without regard to how it will  hurt or wound their fellow man. Social media and the media in general have become a cancer that is slowly killing us. Worse yet, we are the ones who are feeding this disease of hatred. The focus seems to be mostly negative, hopeless and disturbing. This past summer, we saw America literally trying to stay above water as storms of epic proportions waged a different war on our nation. We were united in helping our brothers and neighbors as individual Americans once again rose to the challenge of feeding, clothing and donating millions of dollars to everyone who was affected by the violent wind and rain.

And then, when we had barely caught our breath, another crazed lunatic surfaced who was solely focused on killing and destroying as many people as he possibly could at a music festival in Las Vegas. Americans from all over our country had gathered to celebrate life by raising their red solo cups in the air and kicking up some dust in their cowboy boots. Just minutes before shots rang out, the crowd had united to sing our nation’s anthem as they honored our flag and our veterans.

I sat on the couch and wept listening to story after story of heroism, selflessness and sacrifice; stories of those running toward the gunfire to save the lives of complete strangers. Stories of truly remarkable human beings. Within hours, the tragic event was spun into a  political firestorm and compassion was removed from anyone who died or was hurt if you believed that they voted differently than you. The finger pointing started, and the hate began to brew and percolate. I turned off the TV and kept it off. I scrolled through social media for pictures or posts from my adult children who live far away from me, searching for the innocent smile of my granddaughter. Then I shutdown my laptop and walked away from all devices as fast as I could.

It seems when there is human suffering, we rally to help one another. When acts of nature occur, we are able to keep our focus on our fellow man and his agony; we show up for our brothers and sisters with bravery and generosity.

But more often than not these days, it seems to take less and less time for our compassion to turn to blaming and for us to start fighting or even hating anyone who does not share our view. We are destroying ourselves as we tear each other down; we are crumbling from within.

So what do we do when tragedy strikes, peace erodes into war or our world stops spinning?

I can’t tell you what you should do – only you can decide that. Only you can look within your own heart. You have free will after all and you can do whatever you want. You get to decide what role you will play and what your story will be. You get to choose love or hate, life or death. I am not looking at you, but rather I am looking at myself and asking these questions:

  • Do I instantly react with hate, or do I respond with love? Do I look for someone to blame or do I look in the mirror for the answers?

  • Is my heart filled with love and compassion for all human beings?

  • Do I weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn?

  • Do I spend more time fighting with people than I do simply listening to people?

  • Do I fill my space, home and mind with darkness, fear and anxiety, obsessing over what is wrong rather than praying for solutions?

  • Does my presence in a room bring life, hope and peace to the people around me, or do I carry my hurt and anger like a weapon ready to fire and destroy everything in its path?

  • Is my opinion tearing down my brothers and sisters, and does the world really need to know every thought I have or every grievance and frustration I experience?

  • Are my words and actions bringing unity or feeding division?

I don’t know what you do when the world stops spinning; I can’t tell you how to act or what to say to bring sense to the madness. Only you can decide that.

I am responsible for myself and for my own words…

Every. Single. One.

There is so much I cannot control and so much I cannot change. I have free will, just like you. I can do whatever I want – I can hate, I can let my emotions rule me, I can choose to be offended over everything all the time, I can judge, I can criticize, I can blame. But the truth is that none of those things  bring life or healing. None of those things  bring solutions. And none of those things can make the dark things lighter or the tragedies less tragic.

When the world stops spinning, I will always cry. I will always feel sad and angry. And then I will look in the mirror and ask myself, “Who are you going to be? What role are you going to play? How can you bring life to dead places? How can you bring peace to chaos? How can you cover hate with more love?”

I can do whatever I want, I have free will after all.

And so do you. 

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