One of my favorite picture books is called Someday, by Alison McGhee. Through beautiful, lullaby language and lovely watercolors, Someday paints a picture of the journey of life and the things we will go through. On one page, the text says, “Someday you will hear something so sad that you will fold up with sorrow.” And yesterday … that was the page of my story. I don’t know if you have ever experienced this, but sometimes when something is wrong, when something is cosmically off-base with the universe, people turn a blind eye as a coping mechanism. As much as I hate to admit it about myself, I am one of the people who does this. I have often evaded pain by just “letting it go,” whatever “it” was, because not thinking about something, not exposing myself to it is just … well, easier. I didn’t have that privilege this time.
I decided to listen to the news on my way to work, as I do every now and then, and I heard it. On Monday there was a hostage situation in Australia, where at the time of reporting, there were people literally trapped. Instead of talking about it, however, the reporter then went on to immediately discuss the current football scores. I was disturbed. Wednesday, I decided to listen again, and heard of the horrors in Pakistan. At a school in Peshawar, over 140 people were murdered by the Taliban – and most of them were under 16. Hearing that was abominable, but within the same breath, not even a sentence later, the current basketball scores were reported. The statistics were stated as enthusiastically as if nothing but common facts had just been said. There was no “moment of grieving,” no call for consideration or sympathy … the death toll was callously announced and just … moved on from. I was devastated.
Have you ever been so angry you cried? So disgusted with the current state of desensitization and lack of “feeling anything” that suddenly you just felt too much? To be honest, I avoid the news for this very reason; because I was born with the “gift” of compassion. That’s an oxymoron. Compassion tends to be more of a sentence, a curse, a burden to bear. I hurt, I feel, I don’t let go. And this time was no exception.
The second I walked into school I was surrounded by statements like, “I can’t wait to get out of this place,” and “I’m so ready for holiday break.” And like the quote from Alison McGhee, I wanted to “fold up with sorrow.” The world I lived in was so far removed, so aloof and completely unconcerned with anything outside the small circle of influence in which we reside, and that didn’t sit well with me. I needed to teach, I needed to “be me,” but for once, I just couldn’t let it go. I couldn’t pretend everything was okay, I couldn’t pretend I was okay, because I wasn’t. My students would know that, so how could I hide?
Dalai Lama explained that “Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.” We live in a nation of “me-ism,” where everything is focused on what matters in the here and the now and the “mine.” But we need to start realizing that this way of living, this egocentric focus can’t continue if we want to survive as humans. I would love to say I had some amazing connection, some fantastically connective assignment that brought things “home” to my students – but I didn’t. I had sadness, I had raw emotion, and I had words. So we sat together, we cried together, and we talked. They asked questions … I didn’t have all the answers, and they were okay with that. I wasn’t afraid to be real because I just needed them to understand – they are the future after all, and we are desperate for something more than we have become.
Sometimes I feel like we are nothing more than a nation of complacency … a society that only feels what pertains to us directly. But it does. Whether Australia, or Pakistan – down the street or next door, we are not called to care only for those within our reach. Prayers have no bounds. Like the conversation with my students, I have no real resolution to this conversation, I just really need to know that for once, I’m not the only one unwilling to let it go. Below are two links. Read. Look. Absorb. Feel. Pray. And know that compassion makes a difference.