Numbing seems an appropriate reaction. The news has us believing every day life is full of tragedy on repeat. We turn away, scroll up, click out. Or we gawk and watch from our couches as lives not our own burn on December days.
The past two years have exhausted us, yes. Fear looms ever present and, as the pandemic revealed to all of us, this myth of certaintity is just that, a myth. We like to think we are invincible, until nature and forces greater than ourselves tell us over and over again, we are simply humans.
Just down the road from us a whole community burned in a wildfire in December. Over 600 homes are lost. That’s 600 families who woke up yesterday with plans, and had their lives tipped upside down. The Target where my husband worked in high school is gone. Whole neighborhoods flattened by flames. In December. Global Warming is taking its toll everywhere.
As I scroll this morning, there are hundreds of posts with these common phrases we hear in the face of tragedy:
Let me know how I can help.
Please reach out.
There are no words.
Yes, you mean well. Yes, your sentiments are overflowing with emotion and possibilities. And friends, we can all do so much better.
I’ve coached many people to work on their reframing, because when your life has turned upside down, you don’t have the energy to reach out. You need the people to do the reaching for you.
Make a list of how you like to care for others. Maybe you want to donate money (which you can do here). Maybe you want to bring a meal. Maybe your spare bedroom has clean sheets and is ready for long-term guests. Then offer those direct options up in the chats and in texts. Show up with donations (when organizations are ready). Put on a mask. Serve a meal. Phone a friend. Tell people how you can help, and then follow through.
You might not know what to say, but that doesn’t mean there are NO words. When your home burns, there will be hundreds of words. Tongues freeze for fear of saying the wrong thing. But under the weight of the fear of hurting others, words spew. Words of sadness. Words of anger. Words of hurt and despair. You can bring words of hope.
Try things like:
I know this must be difficult. You don’t have to face this new reality alone.
Want to get a milkshake?
I couldn’t believe as hundreds of families down the proverbial street lost their homes yesterday, I was getting a massage. Privilege, yes, but also a simple reflection that as your world turns, someone else’s may be falling apart. Rather than getting defensive and divisive, every day is an opportunity to turn towards the suffering of others and say, “Do I want to do something about this?”
This is compassion in action. It’s hard work. Messy, full of tears and literal ash. And it often starts with one word.
When tragedy strikes, we have choices. And choosing to turn care into action is a beautiful thing.