This morning the highlights on the national news included a train wreck in New York, a plane crash in Taiwan, a horrific death at the hands of Isis, and more brutal cold and snow for much of the country. Within five minutes, I was reminded that all over the world, very real people are experiencing very unreal, devastating circumstances.
I’m pretty certain that I speak for many Real Women when I say that news like this sends me into a moment of what I call mental and emotional paralysis. Like rapid phases of grief, we quickly ran through a host of feelings and thoughts. First of course come the waves of sadness, shock, horror, and fear. Especially when we hear of the brutality and incomprehensible evil at the hands of terrorists, we are frozen not knowing quite how to react or even comprehend what we are hearing. Next comes the feeling of thankfulness for what we have in our lives – our safety, our homes, our loved ones, our health. And finally, surprisingly: guilt. I found myself thinking “Really? Was I just grumbling about trying to figure out what to wear to work? What do I have to complain about? Why is it that I deserve to live such a comfortable happy life when so many others are suffering?” At some point, we are brought back to our current reality. We find ourselves sitting on the edge of the bed, the dog staring at us, our socks still gripped in our hands and not on our feet, and we have to work our way out of that paralysis and figure out how to go about our day.
I remember in the days following 9/11, I was, like all of America, glued to the news, crying, trying to wrap my mind around what had happened. I remember also holding my then 17-month old son in my arms, thankful that he was too young to understand what was happening, knowing our lives would never be the same, and fearing about what kind of world he was coming in to. Now my son is old enough to have very honest conversations about world events, as we both grapple over the meaning behind many of them.
Yes, there are horrible and scary things happening out there. Yet when we stop to consider what the generations before us went through, perhaps we can take some comfort in the strength of humanity to continue. Our relatives and ancestors dealt with multiple wars, economic depressions, frighteningly powerful dictators, and catastrophic plagues. There is no doubt in my mind that they were just as, or even more, terrified as we are by certain events. In those days, life-changing events had more far reaching effects. They didn’t just hear an update about a war on TV, then head off to their usual routines. They were all part of the war effort. They didn’t just hear about a stock decline and make a note to call their Accountant. They got in soup lines. But they still sought out happiness and enjoyment in life wherever they could.
As always, we can learn lessons from our previous generations. Rather than become immersed in fear or guilt, we can take action. We can volunteer to help others, donate to relief efforts, even do something as simple as give someone who’s hurting a hug. We can remember and honor those who have suffered by continuing to live our lives.
Ok, sure, sounds good. But when we start our day with such depressing and scary news, how do we shake off our paralysis and not spend the rest of the day in the dumps? Any way we can. By sharing a laugh with friends, or appreciating a sunny day, or cranking a favorite song on the way to work. One of the accounts I follow on Twitter is “Cute Emergency.” Their sole purpose is to quite prolifically tweet out pictures of insanely cute puppies, kittens, or any other appropriately adorable animals. It is hard to swipe through a dozen or so images of puppy faces and not experience a mood boost.
Our Minister at my church often gives us a send off that resonates with me every time: Life is short. We don’t have much time to gladden the hearts of others. So be swift to love, and make haste to be kind. I cling to those words and try to carry them with me.
So, we have choices to make. We can become paralyzed by the news that surrounds us, or we can enjoy every moment of the lives we have and try to make a difference in the lives of others. And make sure to take in a daily dose of puppy faces.