What Are We Doing?

On this day in 2013, Karl Pierson walked into my high school with a shotgun. When approached by classmate Claire Davis, who asked, “Oh my gosh, Karl, what are you doing?” he shot her. She died 8 days later.

At her memorial on New Year’s Day, 2014, her dad Michael Davis said:

“We can all realize Claire’s last words in our own lives by asking ourselves, in those times when we are less than loving, ‘Gosh, what am I doing?’ … Unchecked anger and rage can lead to hatred, and unchecked hatred can lead to tragedy, blindness and a loss of humanity. The last thing Desiree and I would want is to perpetuate this anger and rage and hatred in connection with Claire. Claire would also not want this.”

Follow the link to read about the light that was Claire, who shone for 17 short years, and how she brightened the lives she touched.

I ran around all day today, forgetting this anniversary. I got to see a friend for coffee and talk leadership, culture, and honest appreciation. I got to run errands, buy things, enjoy an excellent salad while finishing romance audiobook #62, pick up Daughter from school, cook dinner, and now sit at my laptop to reflect and share my thoughts. Claire will never get to do these things, the things I take for granted.

She will never again sit in traffic, hearing people honking loudly in frustrated powerlessness. She will never now witness people actually getting out of their cars to confront each other on the street when one of them makes a wrong turn. She is not here to see first hand the rapid demise of her fellow humans, sliding ever faster and forcefully into grief, rage, violence, and hatred.

Seriously, what are we doing? Is everybody just walking around with a giant can of gasoline, looking to douse random embers and light wildfires, just to watch them burn? What are we feeling that makes us behave like (believe?) everybody we meet is the enemy? I am convinced that people who lash out, even in the most violent ways, are not fundamentally evil. I think we generally treat one another pretty well when we feel good ourselves. For so many, though, whose reasons for feeling pretty terrible are cumulative and compounding right now, I can see how unregulated negative emotions explode at any provocation. I can validate the emotion without condoning destructive behavior, and hold folks accountable to natural consequences. And let’s be clear, all of us do this sometimes, to varying degrees, under stress. Hopefully we can recognize in time to repair, in most cases.

Better to prevent, though–illness, disease, relationship rupture, and social destruction alike.

For myself, I commit to practicing, however imperfectly, one deep breath at a time. Before speaking. Before honking. Before entering a patient room. Before replying to an email or social media post. Before snark. I will go to bed earlier, drink less coffee, eat more plants. I will move my body regularly. I will look for stories of people helping each other and share them generously. I will practice gratitude and presence, humility and curiosity. And I will connect deeply and unabashedly with the people who do the same, so we may hold one another up.

We can ask, and then act, when we answer the question, “What would LOVE do?”

And maybe let some music lift us, too. “Forever Young” by The Tenors helps me tonight.

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