Saturday, November 14, 2015

Tragedy Limits

I didn't know anything about the terrorist attacks in Paris until late last evening.  I was at work until almost 7:00 and not in touch with the news at all.  I caught something vague about the attacks on Facebook when I opened my laptop to plug it in to the TV so we could watch something on Netflix for movie night.  When I went to bed around 10:00 and checked my computer once more, that was when I realized the extent of what had happened.

I experienced that sad ache that occurs when seeing tragedy in the news.  I can't tell if we're feeling that with greater frequency anymore, or if I've simply been alive long enough that such stories are having a cumulative effect.  My first thought was for the people who are now dealing with unexpected loss, and next for people who needlessly died in fear.

I hate the senselessness of events like this one.  I am sad for victims of natural disasters who suffer great loss as well, but pointless stunts like this where people are the instigators of the suffering of others is also infuriating.  I'm sad, but I'm also angry.  I wish those feelings mixed together weren't so familiar.  I don't want to form opinions and make decisions based on fear or anger.  I remember after 9/11 wanting someone to hurt for what they did.  I don't want to feel that way again.  Revenge is never good policy.

As I was reading news reports coming into the BBC site, it suddenly hit me that my brother was supposed to be in Paris this weekend.

I had the same spiky sense of panic the way I used to when Ian was deployed and there were stories on the news of soldiers being killed in Iraq.  I'm always shocked by how different a large news story feels when it becomes personal.  However much we may want to open our hearts to all in order to try and care for all of humanity, there are limits to the amount of tragedy we can absorb and still function.  I would be heartbroken if something terrible happened to your child.  I would be destroyed if the same thing happened to mine.  The same way I can try to understand any damage you feel in your body, but I have to live in mine.

I called Arno.  He answered.  I asked him where he was, and he said New York, but that he'd just gotten home from Paris the day before.  He missed all of the calamity.  He was concerned for all the people who had been kind enough to show him around their city during his brief stay.  It was good to hear his voice. 

I'm avoiding the news today.  There's not really anything I will learn from it that will change anything.  I'm already sad.  I'm not in a position to be helpful.  We choose to let some tragedies cut closer than others.  Sandy Hook about did me in.  I felt an obligation to those families to listen to all those stories, to feel their pain, but after a few days my husband told me to get some distance.  It wasn't helping anything that I was crying at every turn.

So I don't know what we do.  Other than not to indulge in revenge fantasies or lead from a place of fear and hatred, rather than one of compassion and reason.  I will try to just do as much good as I can in my little corner of the world and hope it has an impact.  I'm choosing some distance on this tragedy.  Because I can, and because I'm wary about how much more there is to come.


  1. I see on Facebook everyone is turning their profile picture into a French flag. It kind of made me think of the green light thing (although its free I suppose, so less of a marketing gimmick)... a nice gesture, but what's the point? There's no point in all this suffering. I hate the vitriol online. I made the mistake of reading what some political idiots had to say and became angry. The whole thing makes me angry and tired and depressed and sad.

    1. I think it is a little like the green light idea in that it gives people a false sense that they did something, but in this case there is nothing you can do, so it's harmless in my opinion. I can't look at the idiocy online where people exploit tragedy to get attention. There are moments where whole sections of society sound like Ann Coulter doing her weird performance piece that she's always doing and it makes me too angry. I'm going to unplug and clean the house and make a cake that looks like a fish (that's a future post).

    2. As a frequent reader and infrequent commenter, could I chime in to say that a post from you about a cake that looks like a fish would be a very comforting thing to read. Thanks for your perspective and sharing your writing as always. I too have to make myself turn off my computer and do tangible things (cleaning, exercising, a conversation with a real person) to take my head out of these tragedies. It is so heavy otherwise.

    3. Today is my son's birthday party, full of laser tag and roller skating, and he requested a fish shaped cake so making that became an interesting distraction. I promise to post once it's been decked out with candles. (NINE candles. Good grief, my baby is nine.)