The Darker Side of Life

Good Bones

By Maggie Smith

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.

Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine

in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,

a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways

I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative

estimate, though I keep this from my children.

For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.

For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,

sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world

is at least half terrible, and for every kind

stranger, there is one who would break you,

though I keep this from my children. I am trying

to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,

walking you through a real shithole, chirps on

about good bones: This place could be beautiful,

right? You could make this place beautiful.

I took a cycle class this morning and the instructor gave every single person in the room a hug. Not just a hurried hug, but a tight embrace, like I was someone she knew and cared about. Some people were attending class for the first time, some people were regulars, and some people were relatively new to the group (like me).

Everyone got a hug.

That sounds really weird, right? It turns out it wasn't weird at all. It turns out I really needed that hug – even if it was from a stranger. Especially if it was from a stranger. We all knew why she was doing it. It's been a horrific week with words like "massacre" and "tragedy" being tossed around everywhere you look. You can't escape the horror.

I felt the tightness in my chest ease a little. She said hugging a person for 15 seconds releases oxytocin – a natural hormone and neuropeptide which is linked to social bonding, connecting with others, greater relaxation, more willingness to trust, and general psychological stability. Maybe it was the oxytocin, or maybe it was just that she broke a social norm and shook things up. Whatever the reason, I felt a little relief – and I'll take it.

There have been far too many mass shootings, actually even one is too many. They shouldn’t exist at all. But here we are again, with the Route 91 Harvest Festival aftermath leaving the air so thick with loss and grief that we can all hardly breathe. I know someone that was there. Everyone I talk to seems to know someone who was there. Or know a friend who knew someone who was there.

The lucky ones survived.

My heart aches when I think of the children who are left without parents, the parents who are left without children. At least 59 people are dead and hundreds hurt in what may be the worst shooting in modern U.S. history. I think about what it must feel like to fight for your life. To scramble to safety. To flail through a crowd looking for someone you love. I don't want to think about it, but I can't look away.

How do we carry on after this? How do we shelter our kids? How do we send them off to school? How do we celebrate at festivals, fairs, concerts, and basically any crowded place? How do we take them out into the world? How do we tuck them in at night knowing that there is no place that is guaranteed to be safe? How can we not talk about gun control, and talk about it again, and talk about it again until the tools that make this type of tragedy no longer exist? These questions pile up on top of each other, and as I drop my kids off at school, I see a world painted in black.

So, what now? I just keep going. I thank g-d that my family is safe, and I pray, I hope, and I beg whoever might be listening that history doesn’t continue to repeat itself. I will give someone a hug, so that we can move through this despair together.

And after we're done hugging, let's make change.


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