At my book club recently we discussed Sharon Salzberg’s Loving-Kindness. Salzberg explains a variety of meditation practices to help us experience love, compassion, joy, and equanimity. At one point she talks about the state of anger and how destructive it can be, even though anger can also spur positive effects like standing up for yourself or others or changing policy for social good. I struggle with how to reconcile using anger for good and letting it eat you up. Similarly, I have an overdeveloped compassion muscle. I am a sponge for the trials and tribulations of friends, family, or even acquaintances. It’s a challenge for me to keep my compassion, which is theoretically a good thing, in check.
So my vocation–telling the stories of the fantastic and invaluable work nonprofits do to help families and communities–is a source of satisfaction and sometimes a strain. As I hear about the injustices my clients are trying to overcome for the people they serve, and the sparse resources they have to do so, I am overcome. I must remind myself to, as Mister Rogers advised, “look for the helpers” whenever there’s a problem or crisis. And the people I write for are the helpers. So that’s a comfort.
Last summer at Lilith Fair I heard Sarah McLachlan sing World on Fire about how we as individuals deal with the myriad weighty challenges in the world. I felt like it was my theme song. I made it my cell phone ringtone for when my nonprofit clients call.
Sometimes it’s better to turn off the news. One friend of mine in the book club discussion said she turned off NPR for several weeks during the vicious election season and listened to Harry Potter books on cd instead. Why immerse yourself in news that’s going to infuriate you?
But when something horrific and unimaginable is happening to people somewhere else in the world, isn’t it our responsibility to listen and understand, to be a witness to their suffering? I don’t know the answer. If I did that every day, my spirit would crumble. But if I ignore it altogether, who am I? Sometimes personal response to a disaster depends entirely on where you are and what you’re doing when you hear the news. If you’re on vacation or celebrating a holiday with family, it’s easier to mute the news and try to enjoy yourself. If you’re ensconced in everyday life and plugged into the media, it’s easier to get sucked in. Two weeks after my daughter was born the Virginia Tech shooter murdered dozens of students and teachers in Blacksburg. I was spending a lot of time sitting in an overstuffed chair and breastfeeding, so it was hard to ignore the news, especially as my mom who was staying with us to help me out, always tunes in.
All this is to say that I’ve deliberately watched a lot more coverage of the earthquake and tsunami nuclear disaster in Japan than I usually do when something terrible happens somewhere far away. I’m not sure why, and I don’t know that it’s good for my psyche, but it is what it is. I made a donation today to the Red Cross to help the people of Japan. I know there are a lot of worthwhile NGOs working in Japan. I encourage you to support one. I have a lot. A lot of these people now have nothing. The world is on fire. It’s more than I can handle. I bring what I am able.