I donít know about you, but it pains me to read the news. I got rid of TV four years ago because I just couldnít take it anymore–the heartsickness I felt every time I turned on CNN, where I couldnít help watching the nonstop coverage of 9/11, the tsunami, child abductions, war casualties, and Katrina.† Itís better now that I canít see it streaming live 24/7, but I still check in on CNN.com, and even that is almost too tragic for me to bear.
The current tragedy
Take the BP oil spill. Every day, thereís more footage of the environmental disaster, the dying birds, the growing oil slick destroying our ocean, the tragic health consequences, the unforeseen damage this will do to our environment. President Obama just met with the BP officials and he wants them to pay for the cost of this disaster, but how can you set a dollar value to the damage already done and the unimaginable damage that will follow?
I read about it all, and I feel myself start to shut down. I just canít take it all in. I feel myself building a wall, navigating away from CNN, trying not to think about it.† Itís too awful.
Then you hear about flooding in the Midwest, mass murders, genocide in Africa, and seemingly never-ending wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. And thatís just what the US media deems important enough to report. It tends to turn me into an ostrich, burying my head in the sand and repeating Scarlett OíHaraís mantra, ďIíll think about it tomorrow.Ē
I know there are activists out there, people who hear about global injustice and natural disasters, and instead of running for the hills, they run for the front line. Iím so grateful these people exist, and I admire their moxie, their passion, their take-charge attitudes, their save-the-world souls.† But the truth is, Iím not one of them.† I can only handle so much suffering in my life.
Itís not that Iím too soft to handle tragedy.† After all, Iím a doctor. So Iíve sat at many bedsides during many deaths. Iíve delivered babies who died in the womb. Iíve told many a father that heís lost not only his baby, but his wife.† Iíve witnessed a man who fell into a vat of molten metal walk himself to the ER only to die on the front doorstep of the hospital. I canít say Iíve led a particularly sheltered existence.
For some reason, I can handle these tragedies, knowing that I am there to help ease the suffering–that even if I canít prevent the inevitable sadness, I can hold a hand, wipe a brow, express love and compassion, cradle a dying baby in my arms while the mother sobs. I can be fully present and keep my heart open and cry my eyes out.
But things like the BP oil spill leave me feeling so helpless. I donít know how to ease my own sense of suffering, much less that of a dying pelican.† I canít leave my family to go stand on the front line and mop up oil on Gulf Coast beaches. I donít choose to fly to Haiti when an earthquake happens. Instead, I get sick to my stomach and just turn off CNN.
I know itís important to be informed. You canít live your life in a vacuum, and history merely repeats itself if we donít learn our societal lessons along the way. But where do you draw the line? It sounds naÔve and oh-so-Pollyanna, but maybe ignorance is bliss.† Maybe I donít need to poison my psyche with never-ending tragedies that I canít do anything about. Maybe itís enough to serve the world in the way I can, knowing that itís enough, even when it doesnít feel like it.
How do you handle these things?† How much information is too much? How do you handle the pain and suffering of world tragedies? How do you get your brain around something so awful that the scope of the imagination can only barely begin to contain it?