“What does it feel like to have an anxiety attack?” she asked me.
I told her I wasn’t sure that I’d ever really had one. But if I had, it felt heavy and confusing. Like everything is chaos and you are drowning in it.
“Are you having panic attacks?” I asked.
She didn’t know. She didn’t know what was going on. She didn’t know what was happening with her body.
It was sunny outside and we fell into pace with one another along the familiar sidewalks of our normal route. She recounted her week to me. The ability to listen well is a unique characteristic in the realm of humanity, especially in today’s culture. She is someone who listens well, which is why it never surprises me when she describes a week filled with almost a dozen coffee dates. It’s rare and beautiful the way that she can have a conversation with just about anyone. She listens well and people start to divulge without even meaning to. They feel comfortable and the fear of being vulnerable melts away as she sits in silence. So they tell her the sources of their deepest pains and their biggest struggles. And she doesn’t tell them to slap a smile on and deal. She just asks more questions and tries to understand.
But then she comes to me and I know her well enough to sense the heaviness. She is a “feeler” who by nature loves deeply and cares immensely. So their pain becomes hers and their burdens shift to her shoulders.
“We are human beings. We are not life boats. We do not get to save people. We cannot save people.”
I learned that lesson the hard way about a year ago. I had just moved back in with my parents and my mom had been sober for the first time in my life for almost seven months and the day that I moved back in, she started drinking again. The next few months were some of the most difficult months I have faced in my life. I was angry at my mom. I was angry at God. And I was angry at the people around me. Nothing in the world around me seemed to make sense and I remember being so frustrated when a dear friend looked me in the eyes and said, “You can only control yourself. You have to focus on what you can do and forget about everything else. Focus on what you can control.”
You see, for some reason, “Focus on what you can control” felt like a cop out to me. It felt like a weak mentality. Now as I look back, I think it’s because I was so painfully aware of how much was out of my control. I couldn’t stop my mom from drinking. I couldn’t make her take medication. I couldn’t make my parents go to counseling or exercise more or spend their money differently. I couldn’t choose the words that came out of their mouths or the way they spent their time. And the end result was a feeling of helplessness. Of weakness.
A year later, here is what I know to be true: focusing on what we can control is really our only option in this life, and it is a truth that once internalized, we can allow to embolden us or squash us in fear. But as my favorite author puts it, we don’t write fear love songs, we punch it in the face.
We have a choice and in light of the world today, the decision seems obvious.
What do we do when fear shows up for battle?
We suit up and fight back.
Not with fits of rage or jealousy. Our tactics are not that of hatred and disdain. We do not use force. We do not use deceit.
We fight with love that is fierce. We build up. We encourage. We empower.
Our words are not our swords except to cut through the hate with truth and affirmation. Our weapons are our actions fueled by generosity and service to others.
It is easy to say and hard to do.
We cannot control the actions of others, but we are not without power. If ever there was a time for us to show up for the people around us, it is now. We cannot take the pain away. We cannot save people. But we can show up and listen. We can enter in with empathy. We can stand in solidarity. If ever there was a time for us to move forward in grace and mercy, it is now.
Our role is the same today as it was yesterday as it will be tomorrow. To stand up, to show up, to speak up. For the broken, for the marginalized, for the persecuted.
We have a choice. To control what we can control. To do what we can. To speak out against injustice. We are the peacemakers. We are a generation that can and will lead with love. And we will start by showing up.