Soon after the news from Nice popped up on my newsfeed an old friend wandered into our shop. Last I’d seen her she had told me that her partner of 16 years had died after a long battle with cancer. She was leaving town, then, and I wasn’t sure if or when I’d see her again. Now here she was, grieving, in need of a friend to talk to. I closed my computer and for the next hour and a half, except when briefly interrupted to help another customer, I spent the time talking… actually, mostly listening.
The other day another woman was standing outside our shop looking lost. I went out and asked what was wrong. “I can’t remember where I parked my car.” I told her that it happens to all of us. “I just lost my husband and ever since he…. My brain just doesn’t work right anymore.”
Most people would walk by my friend and this other woman and not notice that something terrible had happened to them.
Soon after I had hugged my friend for the third time, after she left and before I started locking up, I looked at my newsfeed again. The carnage in Nice, graphically on display, someone kneeling next to a body covered by a tarp, blood pooled on the street.
Then I noticed that a fire had broken out near the Eiffel Tower. A coordinated attack?
As my husband and I drove home last evening and as we listened to the news this morning, we talked about what we could possibly do in the face of this terror, anger, grief, numbness, fear. Derrick, almost always wise in whatever he says, except for when he’s telling me how to do something on the computer (in which case I believe he is always wrong), wondered if there was something somebody could have done to have stopped the man who committed this atrocity. In Derrick’s training supporting people with AIDS, Derrick had learned that when people were ready to commit suicide, they came to a certain level of peace with that decision. “I could kill myself right now, or I could have a bowl of cereal.” And if the right person said the right thing at the right moment, the person who had decided to end his life could end up eating a bowl of cereal, and live another day, and another.
A few years ago at a fundraiser we’d listened to the story of a transgender woman, who, before beginning to accept herself and work her way towards transition, had decided to kill herself by jumping in front of a train. She stood on the platform at the station, ready, when she glanced up and saw a man looking at her from the opposite platform. He looked straight into her eyes, and she felt like he was trying to connect with her, to ask her what she was doing. The train roared into the station, and then left, and she was still standing there and she looked across the platform to the other side where he’d been standing, and he was gone. She walked home. All he did was look at her and she lived.
During a workshop on being a social justice activist trainer a group of us were standing on the corner of 16th and Market Street in San Francisco. I had just stood on a soap box for five minutes, telling those who passed by that I was announcing my run for President of the United States. My platform was that I wanted America to stop selling arms, “After all, people… human body parts shouldn’t be sold for profit.” Yep, I can be a smartass. As I stepped off the box, I saw a woman and man walking by having a heated conversation, which soon turned to yelling. My cohorts and I watched as the man became angrier and it appeared as though he was going to hit her. I walked over and stood between them, looked at him, and said “Hi. Are you OK? Is there anything I can do to help.” He said “No, I’m… sorry.” Teary, he looked at the woman he’d been yelling at and said “I’m sorry.” She said thanks and they walked away.
This afternoon, as I walked our dog past the church office at the end of our street, the pastor noticed me through his office door and came out to say hello. We’d said casual hellos a few times in the past, and I had written him a note about a project a girl in our church was working on and he’d responded to that note via email, but today he really wanted to talk. He asked about our business and how it was going, how long we’d been here now. He truly connected with me, talking about our mutual experience with the construction that has been going on in our neighborhood and the impact it has had on our nerves. And he let our dog Holly climb all over him, and she gave him a big doggy kiss as a reward. That made both of us smile.
I needed a chance to smile today.
When I got back to the shop after my walk I started to write this post. A group of kids wandered in, huge smiles, big hellos, they’d been in our shop many times. They headed to the back of the shop where most of our games and puzzles are out for folks to play with. I started to write again when one of the kids came up and asked if I could help him with one of the games. When I said yes, he beamed at me, a huge smile. “I tell all my friends about this store! I’ve been here a million times and every time I have so much fun.” I hung out with the kids for a while until their parents came in from the restaurant next door. We talked, really talked, about how their lives were going. I listened. It was really nice. Soon they had to head out and literally had to drag their kids out the door, with the boy loudly proclaiming as he left that he was in charge of quality assurance in our shop and everything was great.
84 people mowed down and killed by a man driving a truck in Nice last night, many of them children, and a hundred others horribly wounded.
What can you do?
All around us there are people who are grieving, people ready to commit suicide, ready to kill other people, people who are suffering… There are also lots of people who are really happy, who, with a little attention, can make us happy too.
So, if you’re feeling like I was last evening and at times today, wondering what you can do, I can offer a few suggestions.
Look up. Look across the platform. Look outside. Ask someone “How are you?” and really mean that you truly want to know. Smile at someone. Listen to someone, really listen. Go beyond the routine greeting and take a few extra moments to get to know a little bit more about that person who passes by every day. If a kid asks for help or wants you to play a game with her, say yes!
Don’t just stand there, do something, say something. Be present for someone. Be present.
You may never know the impact one kind word can have on someone else and on you. And, if you feel like it, go have that bowl of cereal.

18 thoughts on “Grief

    • My post was inspired by my need to do something, anything, in the face of such grief, suffered by those who were impacted by the terrible act of violence in Nice, but also to the pain, suffering, isolation, all around us. We do have the power to make a difference to those around us, AND, geo-politically around the world. After serving in the military for eight years, which was all about defending our nation and the world from those who would do harm against innocents, and now nearly 30 years as a peace and social justice activist, with the same goal, I can sometimes get lost in the weeds of worldwide events and forget about what’s happening right in front of me.
      Fred – I’m hopeful that you are surrounded by people who love you and support you. If not, know that there are folks who can and would, if you gave them the chance. I am convinced that the overwhelming majority of people on this planet would not only do no harm to others, but would reach out and help someone who needed help. I see it every day.
      And… while I haven’t been to Syria, I did go to Afghanistan and I did make the kinds of connections that informed my view of people around the world. Of course I was scared, especially one day as we sat in the rubble of a community that had been bombed by the United States, with a boy who had nearly lost both legs to one of our cluster bombs. Out of the corner of my eye I saw people approaching us as we sat with him and his family, and I got pretty nervous. Who were they? What did they want? As they got closer I could see that they were bringing tea and cookies to us, honored guests, people who came from a country that had just bombed them.
      A few years prior to that I sat on the floor of a home in El Salvador, with a man and his wife, both of whom had been tortured during the civil war. They told us about the American “adviser” in the background telling the torturers what to ask them. They knew that I had been in the US military, during the time of their nightmare. They showed me nothing but love, asking only that I listen, and share their story so that perhaps such terrible things wouldn’t happen again.
      My view of the world doesn’t come from some naive place of sheltered existence. I grew up in one of the most dangerous communities in America, have seen the worst people can do to each other, but I’ve also seen the best, over and over and over and over again. That’s why, when I have the time and the spirit moves me, I write.

      • Craig, I have plenty o people who surround me with love and also travel the world a great. I spent time in the IDF serving in the world. Now, why did I write what i did? Because the ones who have to change of be stopped are not around you, they are the ones trying to kill you and I. The Taliban, AQ and ISIS do not play by the rules. The US would not have dropped bombs in Afghanistan if the Taliban was not there. Have yu visited victims of those groups?

        • Thank you for sharing more about your experience and how that shapes your way of looking at the world.
          Yes. Our peace delegation included people who had lost loved ones on September 11th and we also were able to talk to people who had suffered under life with the Taliban. One of the most amazing conversations I’ve ever had was with a young man who had fled Afghanistan and was living in Pakistan for a few years. There, for the first time, he learned how to read and his eyes were opened to how much he’d been lied to. “Education, literacy, that’s what you have to spread.” All he’d been fed before was despair and lies.
          Everyone we talked to was glad that the Taliban was, at that time, and sadly only temporarily, gone. They begged us to encourage the United States to stay engaged, help rebuild, get schools going, jobs……. But the US turned its focus towards Iraq.
          So yes, I can see the suffering inflicted by all sides in conflicts like these and I keep coming back to kindness, compassion, trying to hear the other’s story, wanting to provide refuge from the storms, and still, despite the nightmares that are happening out there, maintaining the strongest belief that the overwhelming majority of people want to live in peace.

  1. Craig,
    You and I , and our spouses, are so fortunate to have the bond of friendship in which I can call you on the morning of such tragic world impacting news in France and invite you to join us for dinner that night. As we all worked our every-day, another important world event involving access to peace occurred in Turkey. So, in honor of, and remembrance of World People, we chose Turkish food down the block from your shop. An excellent culinary choice, and a very nice evening was had where we were all, individually and as a group, able to connect personally, again.
    We have seen how the 4 of us can get together in peace and make connections. We, together, have seen 30 people get together and connect in peace (holiday parties). We have seen 100 people get together and connect in peace (church).
    We, together, can help to get thousands, neƩ, hundreds of thousands of people to connect peace.
    Thank you, Craig, for your leadership in peacemaking.

  2. There is so much going on in the world that makes us feel powerless, that makes us think there is nothing we can do in the face of so much wickedness. Yet the above blog reminds us that we all have tremendous power to change things, if we accept that mostly we do so one person, one moment, at a time. It all hinges on the willingness to be diverted from the pursuit of our own agendas long enough to be present for one another. This reminder about not allowing ourselves to be so caught up in the dynamics of our busy lives that we forget where the locus of real power lies, though gently stated, is huge and most welcome. Thank you.

  3. My brave, amazing, smart, loving, sensitive, patient brother – you sure know how to express yourself – can’t wait to see you, hug you and speak with you. Love you and Derrick so much.

  4. Craig, When you were in Afghanistan, did you talk to anyone about life under the Taliban? Did anyone mention anything positive about that life?

    • Fred – Yes, as I mentioned in my previous response, we did talk to a lot of people who had lived under the Taliban, and I did share the story of one man who fled to Pakistan and learned that all he had been told by them had been lies. One of the women we spoke with talked about how bad life was before the Taliban, with so many of her friends getting raped. Some thought that the Taliban would bring an end to the chaos and violence they saw in their everyday lives, and for a while, when the Taliban took control over certain areas, that proved to be true. But there was a terrible price to pay for that. Over and over again, we heard the same thing from people there… all they wanted to do was live in peace, raise their children, work, have enough food to eat, have some level of control over their lives and future. One of my favorite moments was when a boy told us what he wanted us to ask our government to do, and when we asked him what we should do if they didn’t listen he said “You have a democracy! Vote for someone else.”

      • Woman lost al rights under the Taliban and regained the after they were deposed. How did you feel when the Taliban targeted schools with female students after they were removed from power.
        If the Taliban simply disappeared, there would not have been an ongoing war with them. NATO would have been able to withdraw

        • Sadly, the situations in Afghanistan are so complex, but I do feel strongly that had we stayed engaged, had we helped them maintain security in a way that allowed them to feel sovereignty rather than a sense of occupation, had we, and yes, had they done more…. the Taliban would not have been able to come back into power. Instead, we moved on to Iraq and left the Afghans to mostly fend for themselves.

          • Blame Pashtun Pakistan for supporting the Taliban, but yes you;re right engagement in Afghanistan would have been better than invading iraq.

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