caring

When Tragedy Hits Just Down the Road

Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

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:

This sucks.

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.

Turned Inside Out

After six months at home with limited social interactions, I didn’t think I could look much further inward.

Inward is where I’ve been living – perhaps for the last four years. Grief turned me so inward, I turned inside out.  Insides exposed – skin raw, even still. Prickling with the constant bombardment of suffering, of loss, of what it means to have tugging skin as your wounds heal and re-arrange. After four years, I was ready to get out into the world again. And then a pandemic hit.

With news cycles imploding on the hour, and violence bursting across our country, I’m tempted to turn off my phone and close my eyes.

Tuning out is privilege. Turning things off is a choice.

I thought about changing my Facebook cover photo to this Fauci quote earlier this week.

care

I stopped myself because I don’t feel social media is the place to change minds. Perhaps blogs posts aren’t either. We’re pretty set in our ways and discourse fails in comment threads, when we can’t make eye contact, or place a warm hand of understanding on the fingers of someone we disagree with. Most of the time, our friends nod in agreement when we share our thoughts on how the world could be and for whom.

But, as I continually click reload on news browsers and watch brave protestors, athletes, artists, and individuals address the hurt and pain of others across the nation, Fauci’s quote keeps giving me pause.

How do we knock on closed-off hearts? How do we whisper to those living in extremism? How do we share kindness to people who are different than us?

I have a hard time feeling angry with wealthy people who choose not to share their resources. I live in a working class neighborhood. With every Trump flag popping up on lawns across the street, I hesitate to display my proudly purchased Biden-Kamala sticker. My Christian roots bristle at Evangelical narratives,  withdrawing to find different sources of spiritual thirst quenching. I struggle to embrace the differing opinions of relatives spread across the country.

I said I wouldn’t get political and well, here we are. Everything feels political. Our clashing values create rifts like canyons – pulling us apart from where we used to stand in agreement.

We’re living in fear of those who are different than us. Fear of those who think or look or value different things. Fear of expressing what we really think. Fear of having something taken, or distributed differently, fear of lack of control. Fear of, once again, being unseen.

And somehow, we’ve gotten so sidetracked, that caring for a human life feels radical.

So, I pick up a pen and write postcards to old friends. I text the people who seem to have forgotten me in the course of loss. I go to my garden and I water the plants growing in my tiny patch of dirt. I give money. I pray. I set down the phone. I circle back to my tiny sphere and I keep at the searching for good. I cheer for the protestors. I buy local and support small business owners. I wear a mask. I get ready to vote. I stay home and I keep looking inward.

Maybe, as a nation, we’re getting turned inside out?

How do we remind each other we need to care? Do you care deeply about our impact on the planet, our country, our neighborhood, our streets, on the children who look different than you? What about those who have lived and lost and are hurting? What about those without support networks? What about those whose kids are in literal cages? What about those innocent ones getting shot in the street?

We need to care. And that’s a beautiful thing.