Being brave, I often tell myself, is good for me. Good for us. With so much suffering in the world, who should be able to feel so much?
Mourning in Hanau Photo: Bernd Hartung
Last Thursday morning I drove to the office with an oppressive feeling. I had slept very badly like all of Germany – at least I hope that all of Germany slept badly and not just us. That is, we who look like me and my friends. The whole day I suppressed tears and smiled bravely, as they say.
By smiling bravely, I always imagine the Chrissy Teigen meme at the Golden Globes. Such a tortured smile with tears in my eyes. When I think about it, that has often been my way of dealing with incredible grief, overwhelming emotions, and unfathomable cruelty. In a strange way, sometimes I even feel obliged to feel a kind of pride because I am brave. Because I function.
When my father was killed in the Rwandan genocide, I had to suppress my screams so we wouldn’t be found hiding. When my aunt died, I wanted to be brave for my cousins. When 11-year-old Tamir Rice was killed by a police officer, I kept my tears to myself. When we kept seeing reports of dead black refugees washing up on European beaches, I swallowed the pain and went to work or even to a birthday party at night.
When 9/11 happened or the rampage in Winnenden, there were psychologists at our school who took care of students. Which was absolutely right. When Charlie Hebdo happened, whole newsrooms stopped and there was room for the pain and for the anger.
It feels like my pain, our pain, is a niche pain. That is not allowed to disrupt the flow. For which there is no collective place. It is a pain that must be bravely endured.
Being brave, I often tell myself, is good for me. Who should be able to feel so much with so much suffering in the world?
But it also makes me dull. I’m afraid of becoming indifferent. But I am also afraid of breaking down at some point because I allow the feelings and the pain. I am then afraid of feeling way too much. I’m afraid all the time. Too much fear, but too little time to stop. To endure pain and feelings. To reflect.
I’ve become a pro at crying inconspicuously at my desk, on the commuter train, and in random restrooms. To constantly turn up my nose and pretend I have a cold. Smiling bravely. Swallowing the lump in my throat over and over again. I wish for more space, more solidarity. I wish our pain was no longer a niche pain. Because who knows how long we can still smile bravely.