Feeling Sadness, Deeply

Yesterday I read in the paper that a Florida Panther had died after being hit by a car. So far this year, 18 Florida Panthers have died, 15 of them from being hit by motor vehicles. Florida Panthers are an endangered species. The one most recently killed was just 3 years old (average lifespan is 8 to 15). (Visit biodiversity.org to see a picture of this lovely creature and learn more about them.)

Also in yesterday’s paper, my eyes were drawn to an obituary of a bright-faced individual who turned out to be a teenager. Lance Wind, 15, of Ormond Beach, Florida, “was an immensely talented and passionate artist and singer who dreamed of attending art school in Japan and traveling to Germany. Lance loved anime and manga, and he had begun two comic books of his own. He aspired to create characters that would inspire and offer refuge to other people – the same way his favorite art affected him. He pursued everything he did with dedication and spent hours honing his voice and perfecting his drawings. He was passionate about everything he cared about, ranging from his favorite television shows and songs to his favorite people. His loved ones and friends will always remember him as wildly funny, creative, and smart beyond his years.” Reading this, I assumed that the cause of death was one of those terrible childhood cancers. But in fact, the cause of death was suicide. “Unfortunately, for members of the LGBT+ community, this is a far-too-common fate,” the obituary went on to say.

Sadness is something most of us don’t want to feel. When it comes up, we tend to keep it at a distance, either by shutting it out or by excessive, sentimental emoting (yes, that too is a way to keep the real actual feeling at bay).

But if we take a moment (or longer) to sit with the sadness that comes from witnessing something that really should not have happened; something that — if things were “right” in the world, would not have happened — it frees up a quiet space inside our minds. And that opens up a pathway for each of us to reevaluate how we are going about our lives.

What are we putting most of our attention on? What might deserve more of our attention?

Highways are terrible, hostile places. Non-places, really. Only designed to get cars from Point A to Point B as fast as possible. What is the (pun intended) point of that, if we end up not only missing out on a chance to get a glimpse of a lovely rare panther, but actually end up killing him?

And what mindless conversations — arguments, debates, jaw-flapping — have I gotten into with friends and neighbors and strangers out and about, while somewhere nearby in a quiet corner, some precious being was standing there just really needing a smile and a few words of encouragement?

This is not about blame or self-chastisement; it’s about the power each and every one of us possesses to make a difference in the world, by 1) being willing to fully experience sadness and other feelings that come up in response to tragic events in the world; and 2) using our attention wisely; using our inborn creativity to help fix things that need to be fixed.

On the road (or in the store, or at home) we can help make a better world by making a simple choice to slow down and live more mindfully. It’d solve a lot.

Also on the topic of doing something to make a positive difference, Lance Wind’s obituary mentions two charities that are setting out to help save other young lives: The Trevor Project, a non-profit focused on suicide prevention for LGBT+ youth; and the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide. (Note: I am not familiar with either of these charities; am simply providing the links so anyone can check them out and consider donating.)

Regarding roads: I am working on various fronts to promote a more creative, less destructive, less expensive approach to building roads and other transportation in my local area. There’s no guarantee that any of my input (via grassroots conversation groups, dialogues with public officials, letters to the editor, sharing creative solutions on social media, etc.) will make a difference. But any effort might end up pressing on the right leverage points.

Sitting very quietly this morning being present with my sadness (not just about the two incidents that sparked this post, but about so much else that’s happening in the world right now), I feel also a deeper connection with the beauty around me. All my life, sadness (when I was willing to fully experience it) has been a gateway to immense, pervasive beauty.

Just now out of the corner of my eye I caught motion. It was a tiny bird with a bright-yellow belly. It had been awhile since I’d seen one of those lovely little birds. I don’t know their official name but they are a favorite of mine.

P.S. (added later): Here are two correlations I have noticed, in my own life and out in the wider world. Both are two-way.

1) To be able to really experience our feelings, we have to slow down. AND, conversely, in order to be able to slow down, we have to be willing to really experience our feelings. Because feelings that have been kept at bay will come up when a person slows down. (Which is why a lot of people keep themselves so frantically busy, whether intentionally or not.)

2) Choosing a low-footprint lifestyle allows a person the luxury of being able to slow down. AND, conversely, when we slow down, it becomes naturally easier to reduce our eco-footprint.