Commentary: The pain is so deep we cannot breathe

Morristown vigil for El Paso shooting victims, Aug. 7, 2019. Photo: Wind of the Spirit.


By Melissa Elias and Karen T. Escalona

The fear, anguish and reactive anger generated by the El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, slaughters this past weekend lives right here in Morris County and across New Jersey, and grows like a bloodstain across this beautiful country.

The penetrating fact is this: No-one is bullet-proof. The rapid fire from an assault weapon does not distinguish one body from the next. We can cower behind closed doors or we can unite against the bullets and the rage that pulls the trigger.

In our pain and sadness, we must come to grips with the way these executions targeted at brown and black people by young white men affects our neighbors as well as ourselves.

On Wednesday night, citizens from Morristown and the surrounding area were compelled to come out from behind closed doors on a rain-drenched street and unite in mourning at a vigil for the victims of the latest mass-shootings in America. The following are expressions from those in attendance:

I am an invader? I don’t understand. It doesn’t compute.

I feel guilty and selfish because I am thinking about my friends and family and me, here in New Jersey, not the people of El Paso.

I am sad. So sad the depth of my pain cannot be put in words. Only tears. And more tears.

I am angry, so angry. My disbelief that we have allowed this to happen again, and again and again and the anger resurges again and again and again. In the next moment I can only cry. I mourn the children, the little children, the mothers, grandmothers, grandfathers, the faceless names I hear on the radio. I arrive home to learn that my friend has been murdered, shot dead, I am in shock but I mourn him,too. My heart breaks again.

My white brothers and sisters, my brown brothers and sisters, we must all stand together. I stayed up until 3 am reading the manifesto. I don’t understand. My pain is so deep I cannot breathe.

We all bear responsibility for our children. One of our children did this. I have a 14 year old. We need to be better mothers.

If I have to give my life for who I am and what I do, so be it. I would not live my life any other way.

I have been here for 24 years and I am still undocumented. There is evil in the world. I am grateful for so many people who have helped me along the way. I have hope that we can fix this and make the country a better place again.

I come here in love. 

We cannot relinquish our power to them. Just as after 9/11, we must continue to live our lives, fighting the good fight and flood the world with love and the light of our presence and our hearts. We must educate the ignorant, and one by one, we will show them the way to the light.

God understands. He will help us with his love. I have a 16-year-old.

I am confused. I have so many feelings I don’t know how to sort them out.

I live in terror. I am happy to be here, with people I trust.

We must be strong and stand together.

My family is being torn apart by political separation. I feel nothing but sadness and don’t see a way out.

Someone spit on our house. My daughter could not sleep Saturday night. She was afraid someone would burn our house down.

Now that we’ve heard our voices, what do we do as individuals? We unite, as a kind of emotional CPR. Then we discipline ourselves to remain united. We listen to each other, learn from each other, mourn, grieve and heal each other. We recognize each others vulnerabilities, exercise compassion and empathy, know and appreciate that each of us is different and unique.

It’s not a cliché to say that despite our differences, we have so very much in common. We must not only support each other, but also take the time to be gentle, kind, and honest with ourselves.

The vigil is a start in building a community of trust. Let’s continue to find ways to strengthen structures of support in our municipalities. That takes action, clear goals, and the strength of conviction to see them through.

Instead of shutting our doors or closing the blinds in fear, let’s open them wide and have the moral integrity to lead ourselves and our neighbors out of the darkness that provoked the bullets in the first place.

No one is bullet-proof. But there is a forefront of decency and justice that prevails and diminishes the rage and inhumanity–as long as the majority of citizens in our communities remains decent, caring and just.

On any given day, we can breathe life and light into our relationships with our neighbors, family and loved ones–and embolden and energize the person beside us to keep the life-force at that forefront strong.

Melissa “Missy” Elias of Madison leads the Wind of the Spirit Census 2020 Campaign. She is a former attorney and past director of the Women’s Center at the County College of Morris. Her ancestors include Irish who fled the potato famine, and English and Polish relatives who also forged new lives in the U.S. Her three grown children combine her European ancestry with their father’s French-Canadian and Syrian bloodline.

Karen T. Escalona of Morris Township volunteers with Wind of the Spirit’s census project and with NJ 11th for Change.  She is eligible for membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution, and married a Cuban exile. Her children carry the genes of indigenous Taínos and African slaves; her father was the grandson of German, Irish and Slavic immigrants, and fought as a machine gunner against the Nazis—his own cousins—in World War II.

[interactive_copyright_notice float='left']
[icopyright_horizontal_toolbar float='right']


  1. Jeff,
    If you can’t do better than comparing cars to guns, I suggest you do a bit more digging into NRA propaganda.

    Cars and guns are not the same thing. Their intended purpose is vastly different. Cars aren’t designed to kill people or animals, and no one uses them for that purpose on a regular basis. Guns, on the other hand, were invented to kill and/or maim animals.

    The vast majority of car deaths are accidents. There are occasionally people who crash their cars intentionally, and there are some vehicular homicides. But most automobile deaths are unintentional.

    Most gun deaths, however, are intentional. Data indicates that almost two-thirds are suicides and almost another third are homicides. The rest are accidental gun deaths.

    Car deaths are extremely unfortunate, but less disturbing because there’s no deadly intent behind them.

    The argument that guns and cars are equivalent in any way is faulty logic. So, Jeff, please stop comparing guns to cars. I’m sure you can do better than that. 😉

  2. Thank you Karen and Missy.

    I am deeply concerned and moved by this article and the sentiments expressed by those at the vigil. I struggle with competing feelings of despair and hope and with the frequency of these types of horrifying events. I fear getting stuck in the despair cycle and not finding my way out; and at the same time, I am encouraged by the numbers of us who are there to “keeping the life-force of decency strong”.

    I share with you an inspiring poem by Dan Pelletier. It is rather long but well worth the read. If any of you out there wish to find ways of keeping our community life-force strong, please send your ideas my way. Let’s keep the dialogue going…

    The Baddest of All by Dan Pelletier
    copyright 2004

    In the fight of good and evil, it’s not easy now to tell
    Which will be left standing when they ring the final bell
    But I’ll cast my lot with the innocents and with the foolishly naïve
    And say I’m not blind and I’m not stupid, but still I do believe
    Down round midnight there’s word of a big fight
    It’s going to be a hell of a brawl
    Cause the worst of the worst of what humanity is
    Was gathering to see who was the baddest of all
    There was Hatred and Jealousy, Anger and Greed
    All huddled in the dark down a dead end street
    Who was the toughest of the toughest of these?
    Who would be the last one still on his feet?
    Pride boasted he was going to carry the day
    Mistrust said “Yeah, like I believe a word that you say”
    Selfishness would not let anyone one else in the ring
    While Dishonesty was trying to rig the whole thing
    It was a bad, bad night, a very bad night
    Now, the undercard featured a minor little bout
    It was over in just ten seconds flat
    Cause Lust wanted it more and overcame Apathy
    Who wouldn’t get up off of the mat
    Then the whole crowd poured into the big red tent
    And all eyes turned onto the main event
    The experts said that Gluttony would not go three rounds
    When he showed up at the weigh-in over 800 pounds
    Now the betting was heavy all through the day
    Cause Speculation and Avarice were making their play
    The front runner was Hatred, same as every year
    Cause he never seems to weaken and he never disappears
    But the smart money seemed to be following Greed
    Cause lately Greed’s been coming on strong
    And lots of good people were betting on Evil
    Even though they knew it was wrong
    It was a bad, bad night, a very bad, very bad night
    A no-holds-barred, no mercy fight
    It was a very bad, very bad night
    The crowd hushed like they were in church pews
    And then the bell rang and all hell broke loose
    Everyone was punching and pummeling someone else
    Except for Guilt and Shame – who beat up on themselves
    The fighting was dirty the fighting was mean
    There was kicking there was biting and everything between
    Everybody took a beating, illegal blows were dealt
    Cruelty and Cheating hit well below the belt
    Then the room was washed in purple light
    And Love walked in, all dressed in white
    Leaped over the ropes right into the fray
    Saying “This is not my fight but I’ll fight it anyway”
    Just for a moment they all just stood and stared
    Struck by Love’s beauty for which no one was prepared
    Then they realized if Love takes over all of them are gone
    And they all got twice as mean and they started piling on
    Insecurity tried to undermine love
    While Tyranny tried to squash it from above
    Secrecy was planning a sneak attack
    While Betrayal said “Don’t worry, Love, I got your back!”
    It was a bad, bad night, a very bad, very bad night
    A no quarter, no-holds-barred, kind of a fight
    It was a very bad, very bad night
    The battle continued long into the night
    Love was battered and bruised and lost its footing in the fight
    And it started looking hopeless when in round 83
    Love was caught off guard and staggered and fell down to one knee
    And as the room was spinning wildly and Love tried to catch a breath
    Hatred stood above and prepared the kiss of death
    We saw love’s head bow in surrender, but we didn’t know
    That love was just gathering strength to come up swinging
    And knock Hatred out with just one blow
    And as the rest drew back in fear and one by one began to fall
    It was clear to all who saw it that Love still conquers all
    And as the morning light was dawning and the birds began to sing
    Hope and Redemption helped a tattered Love slip trembling from the ring
    We all watched the shaking legs, the bleeding, tear-stained face
    Rise up in triumph smiling and walked out with quiet grace

    For in the headlong rush to glory and in the passion of the hour
    And in the worst of all our trials we forgot Love’s awesome power
    Though we’d neglected and dismissed it and not given it a care
    We were cheered, thrilled and inspired to find that it’s still there
    And so we promised that Love’s solitude would never be repeated
    For if we all would fight with Love it could never be defeated
    And we vowed that in the future we would try not to forget
    Though we people are not perfect and this fight’s not over yet

  3. Thank you for amplifying these voices. We Americans are all immigrants and should have empathy for those going through this horror.

  4. Karen and Missy:
    Thank you for letting us know about the feelings expressed at the vigil. They are so complex; please know that my heart also breaks for the victims and those who are close to them.

    It’s time for us to demand real action on gun control, not just a superficial bill that will be Trump’s attempt to not to upset his base and the NRA.