They happen with alarming, heartbreaking frequency. Shootings. Kidnappings. Bombings. The kinds of tragedies that take over all the news outlets across the country, or even the world.
And I hate that they’ve become so commonplace that I rarely even gasp when I find out about another one. And instead of “How tragic” being my first thought, it’s, “Another one?”
Which is, of course, part of the problem. The frequency of the tragedies has made us lose our heartache over them, because how do we hold so much devastation? Our numbness makes us forget, though: To many people, this is not just another tragedy. This is the loss of a sibling, a best friend, a child, a coworker, a significant other, a barista or server or hairstylist. For so many people, they do not have the option to look away from the tragedy, because it is staring them down. A new, shattering, reality is facing them–a reality that holds an emptiness they never expected, and certainly not in such a way. No one wants their fifteen minutes of fame to come like this.
It is so tempting, so easy, to click away or change the channel or ignore the newspaper when we see yet another story. Why did it happen? What caused it? How could it have been stopped?
There are the other stories though too–the stories of the people who are living the news. They can’t click away, change the channel, ignore the newspaper. The news is simply a reminder of what they already know, because it has become their world.
For all the very real sadness we may feel, theirs is so much deeper, so much wider, so much more all-encompassing than ours, and they are not given the option to escape it like we are. They will live with it every day for the rest of their lives.
In the face of yet another shooting, it can be hard to know what to do. Saying a prayer, sending money, and attending a vigil may all be appropriate responses, but I’d suggest we also have the awful privilege and responsibility to not look away. We, who are far enough removed to have the choice to overlook what’s happening, must make the active choice to look directly at it. Listen to the stories about the people whose lives have been needlessly cut short and the people who must find a way to make sense of a senseless act and find life beyond it. Choose to see the humanity and beauty of each person involved in and affected by dark acts committed by people with a terribly warped view of how the world should work. Don’t run away from the news even though we have that choice.
Because the reality is, the news stories we read today could become part of our own stories tomorrow. It is tempting to think such things could never happen to us, but that’s exactly what every person involved in any shooting thinks. Malls, churches, movie theatres–simple places we frequent regularly, and all impossible to keep absolutely free from people who wish to do others harm.We don’t need to live in constant fear, but we can’t live in ignorance either. Should our own stories ever become marked by the kinds of tragedies that make the news, wouldn’t we want others to read the stories of the people we loved? To catch glimpses of who they really were and why they mattered? To see our world-shattering tragedy as something more than a headline?
This is a weighty duty, and at times our own lives are so full of heavy darkness that to continue looking at the rest of it would be an unspeakable burden. But for those of us who are not in that place, we must look. We must read the names, see the faces, and refuse to let it become just another tragedy. Because it’s not. It’s real people who have died, and real people who are left behind to grieve and mourn. We may not be able to take away their pain, but at the very least, we can honor it by choosing to really, truly see it.
Til next time…