On July 7, 2016, Micah Xavier Johnson ambushed and fired upon a group of police officers in Dallas, Texas, killing five officers and injuring nine others.
These are some of my unedited notes following the incident 3 years ago
Will the shock ever dissipate? The truth is it doesn’t. It never does. We learn to live with it and it becomes part of the fabric – our fabric.
If you allow yourself to look more closely, you can see that it even becomes a thick, shiny, black double thread that holds everything together. Shock feels to me as the other side of a coin of which the one side is awe. Awe and shock: electrical pulses that keep our hearts awake and attuned to the path – a path we chose or one on which we happened to be walking. Awe and shock: the carrot and the stick.
For the latest shootings, I plead guilty to minimal shock; if that is even possible… My black double thread weaves a series of stitches telling the stories of painful shocks generated by the realities and the pains of law enforcement life and near-death, in the field and at home. Police brutality is real. It has no skin colour. It has a thread colour: purple, the colour of mourning in Greek culture. It weaves stitches full of “them-and-us” separation stories which recount daily exercises in loss: of brotherhood, humanity, emotion, essence, inner guidance, love. Them and us.
There can be too much of a good thing.
Last March (2016), Robert Biswas-Diener got inspired to share thoughts on a PosPsych Facebook page about protectiveness; a possible compound strength. Even though I’m trying hard to not rationalize the most recent events, my thoughts keep circling around overuse and underuse of protectiveness and other strengths; the them-and-us spirit; how people die and the next thing we do is background-check them for overall conduct, criminal records or disciplinary investigations against them. I glance through yet another tooltip headline in my Facebook feed. It is about the two officers involved in the Sterling shooting. Apparently, they had 5 investigations against them between them over the last 7 years. The man they killed had an extensive 20-year-old criminal record. At the same time, a reminder to read through my daily Brian Johnson philosophy nuggets pops up too. I snooze it and look away. While America is burning the midnight oil breathlessly watching Dallas, on this side of the pond, the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, Greece, Lithuania are waking up and going about their days. The EASO proudly present their annual report on asylum; we’re all still commenting on Brexit; there’s a Greek menu recommendation for the coming week… Life goes on. It doesn’t stand still. We have to look away to go cook; prepare the kids for school; volunteer; work and pay bills.
I cannot look away anymore.
I realize that I jumped on the well-being wagon of Positive Psychology (2008) and latched on the first empty seat I’d found with teeth and nails because I wanted to look away. What goes wrong in the world robbed me from hope even before I could ever feel it. I’m still licking invisible wounds and I jump in hypervigilance at even the sound of keys rattling… I wanted (and still want) to brand my eyes with pictures of happiness, safety, goodness and burn away all those brain cells which recorded memories with proof of the opposite. I want to hide and lie to myself that it will all eventually be fine and that these are exceptions to the “goodness” rule. We cannot look away anymore. We cannot forget. We cannot replace the pictures of senseless violence from our retinas.
While numbness is stealthily trying to take over me, I remember turning to Oliver Sacks a couple of days ago for inspiration: his books about gratitude and the mind’s eye as well as the movie Awakenings. In the movie, pictures were powerful. The words, though, flooded my soul.
Help people who help people. Because the alternative is unthinkable. Learn. Learn. Learn. Learn for me. What we do know is that the human spirit is more powerful than any drug. That is what needs to be nourished with work, play, friendship, family. These are the things that matter. These are the things we have forgotten: the simple things.