Treading water in the rush of news

by Kristin on May 2, 2011

in Culture, ideas & paradigms

Photo by gojeffrey

Opinions and words—those are two things I’ve always been pretty sure I could count on having. I might not always have a clear head, a steady temper, or great wisdom, but I almost always seem to know what I think and how to express it. (As it turns out, those are handy things to possess when you have a blog.)

But last night, as news of Osama Bin Laden’s death hit Twitter and then the news, I had nothing. Everyone else on Twitter and TV appeared to know exactly what they thought—their brains seemed wired to respond instantly to the news, or perhaps their minds were following their emotional response—but I was just stunned. I didn’t feel one clear thing. Instead, I felt about 20 very fuzzy things, all of which disintegrated as soon as I tried to pin them down and put them into words.

This morning brought no clarity, just more news stories, speculations, opinions and posts from everyone else. My Twitter stream was flowing in a constant rush of celebration and opinion, judgment and debate, and I was standing on the banks, watching it all speed by, trying to figure out when, where and how to jump into the exciting confusion (or if I even wanted to).

Finally, I saw a little life vest I could slip into, in this tweet by @luthranish:

I think we need to let people process Bin Laden’s death how they need to process it. No need to chastise or take self-righteous stance.

For me, right now, the way I need to process it doesn’t involve being celebratory and loud, swimming over to one side or another, or churning up the waters. It involves treading water—waiting and listening, not just to the loudest voices in the stream, but for that quiet voice inside, too. It will come, even if it arrives in several shades of grey.

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  • ThatGuyKC

    I am near tears reading this. As the son of two veterans, with family in NYC and both friends and family currently serving overseas I have strong feelings about Bin Laden’s death.

    That being said I have really been struggling with anger and resentment towards people I respect and admire for not having the sensitivity to keep their seeming self-righteous postulations on the “christian” response to themselves. At least for now.

    I agree with free speech and I love these people, but now is time to “let people process Bin Laden’s death how they need to process it” and have respect for victims of terrorism everywhere to celebrate, mourn and have closure. Save the discussion and postulating for Tuesday.

    Thank you again. You saved me from allowing anger to cloud my judgment and say/do things I’d have to apologize for later. God bless you as you process this event in your own way.


  • ThatGuyKC

    Whoops! Meant “KT”, but spelled it out on accident. Sorry, KRISTIN. :)

  • Meredith

    My Twitter stream was flowing in a constant rush of celebration and opinion, judgment and debate, and I was standing on the banks, watching it all speed by, trying to figure out when, where and how to jump into the exciting confusion (or if I even wanted to).

    This sums up, so well, what I too have been feeling today. I know I have a lot of opinions about all of this, but I can’t quite seem to articulate them and part of me thinks I may not want to because goodness knows some of my opinions may not be popular today. I’ve watched people around me celebrate, as I wonder why I can’t seem to summon the same joy they feel. Thanks for giving voice to this ambiguous feeling.

  • Alise

    Honestly, I wasn’t going to write about it today, but when I saw my pastor post Proverbs 11:10 as his facebook status this morning and one of the first comments was from my ‘wicked’ husband, I didn’t feel like I could wait. When we say, “We’re all as bad as Osama bin Laden” when discussing sin and our deserving hell, and then people throw around verses like that when the ACTUAL OBL dies, it rips my heart apart. I can’t

    I think a number of people are feeling conflicted about this whole issue. I know that I certainly do. Where I DON’T feel conflicted is about how the reaction of Christians rejoicing in OBL in hell (Welcome to hell? Really?) affects the person I love most.

  • Jennifer

    And when it arrives, it may not be something you choose to share. And that’s okay, too. Much of what I’m seeing is knee-jerk patriotism with little substance other than emotion. I think most people feel like you do but the compulsion to share, or overshare, is made stronger by the availability of instant news access and sharing sites like twitter. I, for one, thank you for considering your opinion and its implications prior to sharing. In that way, I know that when it does come from you, it’s been considered from most angles, giving it a deeper texture than instant opinions lack. My ideas about this are complicated as well. Listening and thinking are what I need to do now.

  • Nicola

    Thanks, Kristin, for posting this. I’m feeling very mixed emotions about the whole thing. I actually think it’s a sad day for humanity when we rejoice over killing someone, even someone “bad.”

    While I think it’s incredibly cathartic for Americans to learn of OBL’s murder, and I confess to initial feelings of relief, if not happiness, I am struck by the fact that the pictures of the gleeful American demonstrators looked remarkably like the anti-American demonstrators in some countries when 9-11 happened. It feels like the only difference is that this is US, not THEM. (I know, I know, OBL was an “evil” man on many levels and those killed on 9-11 were innocent victims, but the gleeful celebration of death and destruction looks a lot alike to me).

    The fact that this may be (will? is?) framed as a Christian victory, is all the more repellent. As a possible non-Christian (I guess that makes me agnostic?), this is precisely the reaction that makes me NEVER want to align myself with organized religion. Can’t we even rely on our Christian leaders to take the high road, to turn the other cheek, etc. etc?

    All in all, I’m left feeling sad, not jubilant. And, I can’t help feeling that we’ve just opened up the next chapter of hate, rather than giving closure to the last one.

  • Pingback: Thoughts on Today’s News : Ordinary Mer

  • Grace Walker

    Oh I feel so much the same as you; and I have many friends who have posted thoughtful and well-thought remarks that are coming close to my sense of being concerned for our future still. Yes, there is much to process on this one.

  • Kristin T.

    ThatGuyKC, first of all, no worries regarding my name–it happens all the time! More importantly, thank you for sharing your very personal experience/feelings around all of this. When I first started reading your comment my first thought was guilt–that you were going to say I didn’t feel anything because I’m not personally tied to or invested in this saga, (which is mostly true, and has a lot to do with my lack of pure, focused emotion around this.) Just the fact that you have strong feelings but don’t expect everyone else to share them is a powerful example of love and respect for others. Thank you, and blessings as you continue to sort through this.

    Meredith, ambiguous indeed! It’s a confusing feeling, isn’t it? But maybe it is a form of self-protection, because it forces us to step back and be quiet for a while. I could stand to do that more often!

    Alise, I just said it would be good for me to keep quiet more often, but situations like yours (mostly-well-meaning Christians saying very hurtful, alienating things) break my heart. They need to be countered. I’m so glad you are strong, loving and clear-headed enough to do just that.

    Jennifer, I think you nailed it with the current “compulsion to share” thanks to constant information coming in and plenty of outlets for our own emotions to shoot back out. Just think, back in the day, we used to have some knee-jerk reaction to something, and only our spouse might hear it. Now hundreds can immediately be showered with whatever comes to mind. Sort of frightening!

    Nicola, you make a really powerful point about the very fine “us not them” line separating various displays of patriotism around the world. Why is compassion so difficult to grasp? And don’t get me started on Christian leaders who see moments like this as a sign of God blessing our upright nation. While it might be a prevalent stance, there are many churches genuinely focused on peace and love.

    Grace, I wonder if some of the varied reactions have to do with how well we can live in the moment, versus how much we tend to worry or project into the future. As you said, there is much to process.

  • Jen

    Treading water is a very good metaphor for it. At first, I was frustrated that I couldn’t just feel either happy or angry like everyone else, but the more time I get to process it, the easier it is to accept that it’s okay to feel conflicted. These feelings are far too big to boil down to a Twitter-length quip. Time to pause, reflect, and process are so important!

  • The Modern Gal

    What a wise approach, Kristin. I think huge events like this stir up so many complex emotions — and just for one person, let alone all of us — that taking time to listen and process is important. It took me more than half the day yesterday to acknowledge and put words to what I was feeling — sadness, grief, gratitude, fear, etc. I think it’s important that we respect each others’ emotions too, as everyone is going to process this event differently through their own lenses and own experiences.

  • Sugar Jones

    It’s strange. When I got the news from a friend about an hour after it was announced, I jumped onto Twitter to confirm the story. I sat there for a while before I could figure out what to say. I had a million thoughts in my head. I did eventually share a few strong feelings. I needed to say something, I said it, and then nothing. I wanted to write a post yesterday, but the only words that came to my mind were the words from God Bless America and my life verse, Isaiah 51:3, “The Lord will surely comfort Zion, and look with compassion on all her ruins…” Those words comforted me, but for some reason, I felt compelled to keep them to myself. I think we all needed to process these events in our own hearts and minds.

  • Kirstin

    Thank you for posting this, Kristin! It’s so nice to read an acknowledgment (and further confirmation in the comments here) of the complexity of responses to this event.

    Me, I was a bit nonplussed by the news. The fact that we’re still at war, that the US continues to be an object of hatred, that much is still unknown and poorly understood about Islamic extremism–all these things still feel much more palpably real to me than the closure to be had from the event. Of course, my response reflects a certain luxury of disconnection that has been unavailable to those more directly affected by terrorism. And I learn from watching the very different reactions of other people around me whose opinions I respect. But it’s rare that facebook/twitter/blogs open up the kind of quiet space where that interactive reflection can take place–thank you for making it happen here!

  • Sandra Ahten

    Kristin, You and your readers have expressed my own lack of knowing about how to respond. Thanks for providing this peek into a place that harbors shades of grey.

  • Kristin T.

    Jen, it’s funny, after I wrote the headline and chose the photo, I tried to imagine treading water in that rushing river! I’m glad the analogy works for you, though (and maybe it’s impossible to not get swept along a bit, even against our will). Anyway, accepting conflicted feelings is an important part of life. I always try to acknowledge the validity of conflicting feelings in my kids.

    The Modern Gal, I love that even when you were able to articulate your feelings they came out very mixed—”sadness, grief, gratitude, fear, etc.” And a loud amen to respecting others’ feelings. One of the most powerful counseling lessons I’ve learned over the years is that feelings are neither right nor wrong—they are what they are, and they’re valid for that very reason.

    Sugar, I’m with you: “I had a million thoughts in my head.” All I could write on Twitter that night (besides the RT I mentioned in the post) was “I’m stunned.” I’m glad you ended up sharing the Isaiah verse here, though—very powerful in terms of brokenness, compassion and healing.

    Kirstin, complexity indeed! I have to wonder if the complexity settled in later for the people who were celebrating in the streets Sunday night, or if their initial reaction has remained pure and steadfast. For me, the complexity seems to be here to stay. :) I’m glad this can be a place of respect and reflection as we sort it out.