That may seem like a really strange title for today’s blog post.
Especially since I’m writing this in Boston, less than a week after the Marathon bombings, which created wide-spread (and completely understandable) beliefs of “we’re not as safe as we thought.” (At least that happened here, in the U.S.)
Especially since I’m writing this approximately 36 hours after “Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19” (as the media is now referring to him) was captured, hiding out in a boat, in Watertown, MA. According to Google maps, he was hiding right behind the Arsenal Mall, where I’ve shopped for the last 30 years, a block away from places I frequently walk, and less than 2 and a half miles away from where this writer currently lives.
Okay, I want to ask myself (and you) a question right now. Why am I starting with time and place, in this post? Why did I write those previous paragraphs, so specifically, about where and when?
Anxiety can heighten a sense of time and place.
I state the place and time when I’m anxious, as a way to get a sense of how safe I am. It’s like I’m monitoring the environment and asking this: how close am I to danger (by location and by time)?
I see that heightened anxiety, now, in people all around me.
I see that heightened anxiety in the people who are trying to make meaning of this new reality: My World After the Boston Bombings.
I see and hear people telling their stories, now, with those kinds of details — focusing on location and time. Details like these: I live(d) in Boston, during this time. Family members live(d) in Boston, during this time . Boston is/was familiar to me, during this time.
The punchline, that I hear in these stories, is this: Danger is closer than I thought.
Okay, I’m going to turn to the personal, now.
My Year of Living (What Seems to Be More) Dangerously.
I’ve been noticing, lately, that as I do this daily blog — The Year of Living Non-Judgmentally — I typically write in that state of heightened anxiety. That is, in many sentences I write (including many sentences in this blog post!), I state the place and time. And I’ve been doing that all year.
That’s because I’m more anxious this year.
Why? Well, I’m doing two new things: (1) blogging and (2) working at a relatively new job for me. And the new, as we know, can make us more anxious.
However, I’ve been remaining anxious, even as I get more familiar with blogging and my job.
I don’t think I need to explain why blogging — writing and sending personal information out into the world — might cause me some anxiety. (Friends, Romans, Countrymen, Writers, Fellow Bloggers — you probably have some understanding of this.)
But why does the work continue to make me so anxious?
Here’s why: This year, I am doing work I love in a location that triggers old, anxiety-provoking memories in me. For the first time in my long life, I am working at a hospital, and I had some anxiety-provoking experiences in the hospital, when I was a kid.
So, the hospital where I am now working, which is — rationally — a very safe place for me, can FEEL more dangerous that it really is. Because I have so many memories from when I was a child — memories that color the way I see things in the present, that intensify my vision and my hearing as I walk around my now-safe hospital — as a result, I can feel less safe than I really am.
How have I been dealing with that, this year?
My own process of helping myself feel safer.
I have been reminding myself — in the Here and Now — of the safer reality.
Whenever I can, each day I walk into work, I enter through the hospital’s main entrance. Then, I walk the 5 minutes to my office, looking around, taking in the sights and sounds, and reminding myself — with my internal thoughts and with the evidence of my eyes and ears — of all these things:
You are not a child now. You are not a patient here. You are an adult now. You are on staff here.
You are in control, now. You are not stuck here. You can choose to leave, at any time.
Scary, awful things happened to you, but that was a long time ago (although it can feel like yesterday, sometimes).
These things happened to you around the corner from here. And this place may look, sound, and feels like that place. But that was then, and this is now. That was there, and this is here.
It may feel close to you, in time and space. But it’s further away than it feels.
There’s distance between danger and you, Ann.
And those questions about who you can trust? The people who work here may remind you of some people who did scary things, but they are not the same people.
Those people who hurt you — whether it was by ignorance, fear, or another one of their own limitations — those people can’t hurt you, right now.
It’s safer than you fear.
Those are the things I say to myself, as I walk through the hospital.
And here are some additional things I’ve been saying to myself, lately, as I walk outside the hospital:
Those people out there in the world, right now, who deliberately hurt others? You may not understand them. They may seem bigger and more powerful than other people. But they are the same size as other people.
And there are others, in your life, who can help you stay safe.
You are not alone.
It’s safer than you fear.
What I see in others, now
This week, in Boston, I see people, all around me, doing things that remind me of my own personal process — trying to figure out how safe they are.
As I wrote in yesterday’s post, it’s the PROXIMITY of danger that can make us feel less safe. We feel less safe when something happens — something terrible, something violent, something dangerous, something that shatters our sense of safety — closer than we expected.
And I see others, all around me, already, doing whatever they can to start the healing process.
I saw people in Watertown, MA, coming out of their houses immediately after the lock-down was lifted, cheering the law enforcement people leaving their neighborhoods.
As I walked around yesterday, I witnessed other people walking. I wondered if they were doing the same thing I was doing — experiencing the beauty that is erupting everywhere around us, in the neighborhood of recent, violent danger:
And last night, I deliberately returned to my favorite diner (which — as I wrote about yesterday — appeared in almost every TV image during the capture of the suspect).
I went to that diner with people I adore.
That’s Janet and Ray, whom I’ve known for about 30 years (the same amount of time I’ve known the Arsenal Mall, whatever the hell that means).
I was healing myself, by going back to the Deluxe Town Diner, in Watertown, MA., last night, with Janet and Ray. I was connecting back with many old, safe memories of that place. With people I’ve known and trusted for a long time.
Janet, Ray, and I were integrating the new, awful information with the old, as we spoke about the Proximity of Danger. We talked about how the capture took place so close to where we were — as we ate, laughed, and reconnected.
These are attempts to heal. To figure out ways to feel safe enough to move forward .
That is what I see, every day, in the group and individual therapy work I do. Whenever I witness people doing that — healing themselves, with the support of others — it moves me, beyond words.
It may be beyond words, but I do try to put that into words, in writing and in speech — here and elsewhere.
Here’s a phrase that came to me, many years ago, when I first starting doing the work I do:
All healing is mutual.
In other words, as we witness other people heal, we heal, also.
That is what I see and hear, all around me.
Thanks so much for reading, here and now.