We wake up to the news that an earthquake has devastated Nepal.
And my day begins with a burdened feeling for people I don’t even know. I search Twitter for news. For photos. I scan Facebook for news about people I know who live/work/travel in the area. I am hungry for information and in the information age, news comes as quickly as fast food through a drive-up window.
Quick. Now. Instant. I want to know everything and I want to know it now.
On the one hand, it’s a blessing. Tragedy strikes and we can know within hours if loved ones, friends, acquaintances are safe. We can mourn in real time with those who are suffering. We are connected across oceans in ways that still astound me.
News travels fast.
Sometimes, though, it’s a curse. News travels so fast that it’s often just as quickly forgotten.
Today, we are focused on Nepal. And maybe tomorrow we will be, too.
But our attention will fade long before the work is done. We will move on and those who have suffered loss will remain in their pain.
We swear we’ll never forget but we do. All the time.
Remember Ebola? There are people in Liberia and other West African nations who have daily been unable to forget because they are on the ground in the midst of the outbreak, doing the work.
Or what about the university attacks in Kenya?
Or how about Hurricane Sandy? Or the Midwestern tornado that leveled an Illinois town called Fairdale? Or any other countless disasters that wreck lives on any given day?
We can’t remember them all. We’re human, aren’t we? And the world is so messed up that bad news seems to be the only news, and who needs that to drag them down day after day? Right?
I confess: it’s easier to turn off the TV, or not watch the news in the first place, or scroll past the Tweets or Facebook posts about tragedy, or scan them with a “not-another-one” attitude. I do it all the time.
I’m not proud of that.
When I was a newspaper reporter, the pressure was high to publish breaking news and follow up on that news in the days after. But every day was something new and sometimes one tragedy trumped another. We’d make it to the one-year anniversary of an event and I’d think, “Has it been a year already?”
News travels fast and time passes quickly and life goes on.
But what if it’s your tragedy?
We can blame the media, but it’s not really their fault. If it’s anyone’s fault, it’s mine. (And yours. But I can only deal with my fault. You’ll have to deal with yours.)
As I scrolled through Twitter today, looking at pictures from Nepal, I wondered about the role of the photographers. I questioned the sanity of people tweeting while running from an avalanche on Everest. I even wondered if I should believe everything I read on the Internet.
When news travels fast, it’s not always accurate, at least not at first, but there are circumstances where some news is better than no news, even if it’s wrong. (The journalist inside me is screaming “NO” at that statement.)
It is good for us to see that people are huddling in tents in Kathmandu as night falls. And it’s good for us to be reminded that the water supply is dwindling. And it is right that we know that the death toll is climbing. Because the more we know, the more we’ll connect, and the longer we’ll remember.
At least, I hope so.
We want to help, I think. Most of us do, anyway. So we send money. We pray. Or if it’s a closer-to-home tragedy, maybe we bring food. Send a card. Take a team to help.
Maybe you respond to suffering and tragedy like I do. You want to do something NOW. You want to spring into action. Head to wherever the tragedy is, to whomever is suffering, swoop in and fix it.
The truth is that there are no quick fixes to tragedy, and lots of organizations (the Red Cross, Samaritan’s Purse) respond immediately. Even individually, we are good at clearing our consciences by helping or offering to help right away.
But what happens a month later? Or a year later? Or 10 years later?
The woman who has lost her husband unexpectedly continues to grieve well after the funeral is over. The mother who loses a child aches forever. When the camera crews go home after a hurricane or a tornado, the work continues. The rebuilding doesn’t stop. I remember standing in the moldy, water-stained house of a family in North Carolina a year after their community was destroyed by a hurricane. Almost everything they had belonged to FEMA, and our little crew from Indiana barely remembered the storm.
My heroes are first-responders of any kind. The men and women who rush in when others are fleeing. They are a special breed of human, and sometimes I think that if I am not built to be a first-responder then maybe I can’t help at all.
We need first-responders. Desperately. But we also need second-responders. And third. And tenth. We need–and need to be–people who show up not just on the day of but on the day after. And days after. Who step in when the wounds we can see have been bandaged but the wounds we can’t see are still oozing.
I don’t know how we do that except to be responsible for our own intake of information. Maybe we need to clear our Twitter feeds of celebrity gossip and TV shows (guilty) and fill it with news sources, relief agencies, charitable organizations. Maybe we need to watch the news once in a while or read a newspaper.
Maybe we need to do more. (Check out what a couple of guys from our denomination are doing to support the Ebola relief in Liberia.)
Maybe we need to read the articles and look at the pictures and sit with our grief when these things happen. We don’t need to feel good and happy all the time. We can mourn with those who mourn. (I should also say that there are times when we need to not to do this, too. Say, if a personal tragedy is still fresh and raw. We can step away for a time from situations that will cause us more grief personally. It’s just easy for that to turn into an all-out avoidance of any kind of suffering. I know this from personal experience.)
What other ideas do you have?
An inspiring book on this subject is Eugene Cho’s Overrated. What a challenge to us to stop being in love with the idea of changing the world and actually start changing the world.
And if you’ve never heard the song “Now the News” by Eli, check it out and let yourself be challenged by its message.