Even More Compassion Fatigue (Part II)

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What are we to do?

Something strange has been happening the last two days. It is insignificant in our everyday lives, our eating and drinking and working and sleeping lives. Yet, the ramifications of this phenomenon are far-reaching, and hold sway over what it means to be human, especially what it means to be human in the 21st century.

Cyclone Nargis, one of the deadliest cyclones in history, struck Burma early this month. Last week, international ire and frustration arose as the ruling military junta in that nation refused aid. In fact, the junta today seems like a angsty preadolescent, both requesting aid on May 6th and then blocking relief agencies and failing to issue visas for relief workers. Thousands of people have died and will die from the aftermath of this disaster; and if aid does not reach sick and dehydrated people the number will reach the hundreds of thousands. It may already be there.

Yet, for the past two days, there is has been scant mention of this in the national news. This is because, of course, that an earthquake struck southwestern China recently, again killing thousands and trapping thousands more. For the past two days the world has watched as Chinese rescue workers have mobilized to the aid of remote villages, and we read of an steadily rising death toll.

My question today, here on a rare rainy day in Colorado, here as wildfires rage in Florida, here as AIDS steals life in Africa and the Indian subcontinent, here as the world experiences a food shortage, is this: what am I to do?

I’ve read the headlines, I’ve mouthed silent prayers for fathers who lost children, for children who have lost parents. But, I am stuck here. My wife and I give every month to communities in need in the two-thirds world; yet the world outside of Denver, CO has surprisingly little impact on my life here and now, and that is most often where my interests lie. Here. Now.

Another question also surfaces: should I care? Should I care about the dead and dying in Asia? This is, essentially, a faith question. It is a question for theologians, but a question for all of us whether religious or not: what is our connection to the world around us? What is our connection to my next-door neighbor, to the single mother in the grocery store, to the heartbroken father in Burma?

I do not know the answers to these questions, but I feel I must face them squarely. Somewhere, I know that this 21st century immediacy is both good and bad for us: good as it connects us, bad as it disrupts us. The news cycle makes it so that we only focus on the new, making true connection nearly impossible while information is more prevalent than it has ever been in the history of humankind.  With the myriad problems facing our country, our world, we are faced with the need to either bunker down and ignore it all or give something even though it seems to change nothing.

Yet.  Yet, somewhere, I know that sending a check or calling an 800 number connects us.  It connects me to that father in Burma or the single mother in the grocery store. I may only be putting a message in a bottle, but it is something.  There is something empowering about seeing such terrible images on the television and then doing something — even something seemingly small and insignificant — about it.

So, as I sometimes struggle to care about the images before me, I say act: do something in the face of the images, before they numb and harden you, before you watch live newsfeed as unemotionally as the latest Hollywood drama.  Put the message in the bottle, throw the lifeline to the wind.

[Part I can be found here]