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Our Collective Awakening

Our Collective Awakening

By Maria Shriver
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I didn’t finish writing this column until the end of the week. I found myself struggling to put into words everything I’ve been hearing, noticing, thinking, and feeling lately. I’m sure you’ve found yourself in the same position.

Everywhere I look, I see grief. I see pain, heartbreak, confusion, and disbelief. In fact, almost every interaction I had this week involved someone saying, “Wow, the world is really crazy right now, isn’t it? I mean, what the hell do you think is going on?”

Good question.

I’ve thought a lot about what’s going on. I’ve also thought a lot about what the possible solutions might be to address what’s going on. But every time I speak about possible solutions or ideas, someone tells me that they won’t work. They immediately jump to blaming and to othering. Things get heated really fast.

In my personal life, I’ve found that when stuff gets heated, it’s best to take a beat and slow my breathing. It’s best to slow down my heart rate and my mind.

Heated arguments don’t produce calm heads. Yelling and screaming don't open hearts or minds. In fact, they do the exact opposite. I don’t care whether you are talking about guns or gun owners, Republicans or Democrats, or Johnny Depp and Amber Heard. Everyone feels enraged, opinionated, and certain of their position these days. No one feels they can come to the table to listen or think about things from a different perspective. That’s a problem for all of us that runs counter to a healthy society.

My friends, this a moment—yes, a moment—for passionate hearts. It’s also a moment for cool heads. We are all going to have to come to the table if we want to safeguard our children, our families, our schools, and our places of worship. We are all going to have to lay down our arms—be those opinions or guns—and say to whomever is on the other side of the table, “I see you, I hear you, and I want to try and understand.”

People need to believe that I don’t see them as the enemy, and I need to feel the same. So this week, I tried to listen in a new way with an open mind and an open heart. I heard gun owners talk about what they believe and listened to their ideas about reform. I listened to first responders and police talk about what their lives and jobs are really like, and what they need in dealing with a crisis. I listened to mothers and fathers. Teachers and students. Then, by week’s end, I actually felt hopeful. I really did.

I felt hopeful because of people like Trey Ganem who, along with his family, built individual coffins for those who lost their lives in Uvalde, TX. Each coffin told a story of the person that it held. I also felt hopeful watching the Moms Demand Action March, which included gun owners fighting for change. I feel hopeful because of the individuals who write in this week's issue, each with a story written to help us in these confusing times.

I felt hopeful listening to Senator Chris Murphy. And yes, I even felt hopeful listening to our President. I felt hopeful listening to the cops who ran into the medical building in Tulsa, risking their lives to do what they could to stop a mass shooting in progress. It made me think of another story I heard this week where people were saying that if 9/11 were to happen today, they doubted whether the first responders would actually run into the building. I couldn’t disagree more.

People are inherently good. They want to help people and safeguard their schools and buildings. The vast majority of us are good, hopeful, kind, and loving people. I really believe that if, God forbid, there were another attack like 9/11, there would be good, kind, loving people running to help. There would be good people opening their homes, bringing food, making coffins, and supporting other families in time of need. I’ve got to believe that about us, about humanity, and about our larger American family.

l really do believe this moment is a collective awakening. I really believe that the overwhelming majority of us recognize that the fighting is killing us. That our inability to hear, to listen, and to negotiate is killing us in every way, shape, and form. Our identity as this big, beautiful democracy is on the line. Our identity as this majestic country that lured generations with a promise of a better life is on the line. Our identity as an inclusive, open, tolerant society is on the line. It’s up to us to show ourselves and the world who we are, what we care about, and what we are capable of safeguarding at this moment.

We can’t proclaim that we are the greatest country in the world if we will not safeguard our children. We cannot proclaim we are the greatest country in the world if we are, in fact, the deadliest country in the world. We can’t say we are the greatest example of a healthy democracy if we allow people to destroy our very way of life with lies and by stripping away our right to vote or to participate in safe elections. We cannot say we are all equal here if we are also stripping away women’s rights or keeping other segments of society down based on the color of their skin.

We are in a moment, and we are having a moment. Do we continue to spiral out of control, or do we take a beat, survey the landscape, and pull up a chair at our kitchen table?

I found myself thinking about all of this while watching the Queen across the pond celebrate her Jubilee. I thought about all she has seen and all she has been through in the world, even in her own family. I found myself wondering how she managed to bring her own warring family back together and back to the same table. I wondered who made the first move—who, if anyone, apologized. Who, if anyone, took a beat and realized the larger family was more important than any one person or misunderstanding. I found myself wondering way more about the repairing than the celebrating.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize how fruitless it is to just dig one’s heels in. I’ve come to realize we all lose when we are stubborn, righteous, and unwilling to bend, compromise, or envision a way forward. It’s time to be the bigger person in the room. It’s time for each of us to rise above and see that as a positive move.

We must envision a new way forward for our larger American family. We must envision a big balcony with all kinds of people welcomed onto it. If we don’t, we will have nothing left to celebrate when the parade comes to town.

This is that important of a moment. Let’s not squander it just so we can say we were right and they were wrong.

Love, Maria

PRAYER OF THE WEEK

Dear God, thank you for the hope I am feeling in this moment. Help us all to lean into that hope to make meaningful change for those we love and those we don't yet know. Remind us that people are good, despite the noise of the day. We have the strength to come together, so push us toward that blessed unity. Amen.