I am skimming the updates on yesterday's tornados in Oklahoma, coffee perched beside me, while making notes for my day. I am a little embarrassed that I'm not more engrossed in the story. Children missing, dozens dead. Click. I scroll down.
Any time there is a national tragedy I am torn. I hate the voyeurism of 24-hour news, and refuse to support it or to subject myself to the over-the-top speculation and endless repetition of horror. And yet. How is it that families less than a thousand miles from me are drinking their coffee this morning, staring into the reality of life without their children, and I remain unfazed by their pain? Am I comfortable being so calloused to that sort of awfulness?
I thought about this often during my husband's recent hospital visit. For several days I honestly did not know how the rest of my life would look. The reality of raising four children under six years old, caring for a disabled husband, and finding a means of supporting all of us was just within my grasp. It was impossible to know if his accident would be a blip on the radar, just another near miss in our life together, or if it would be a defining moment, marking the entrance into a life none of us ever thought possible. After leaving the hospital one night I was in line to order my burrito, and I started crying. I was exhausted and overwhelmed. It was an inconvenient time to feel anything, but they were the sort of tears that, once they start, cannot be stifled. The guy behind the counter did not notice, or pretended not to notice. The woman in front of me stared at her phone. There was nothing they could do, and I really did not want them to try. This thing was happening in my life while in front of me the guy's shift was up in twenty minutes. That's the way life goes.
How do we balance it? We can't carry the burden of every pain - we'll suffocate under the weight. But to stare, unmoved, while someone suffers in front of us makes both us and them less than human. Over and over in Scripture people asked Jesus why terrible things happen - was it sin that caused a baby to be born blind? Was it judgment that caused a tower to fall? And honestly He never gave the kind of answer I would have wanted from Him. Sometimes He healed, sometimes He didn't. He allowed John - his cousin and closest ally - to have his head cut off, and when John doubted Jesus, His only response was, "Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me." Jesus stared into human suffering, and though his heart was soft to it, He did nothing to prevent it, nor did he deny its power.
How do we follow Him as we watch others in pain? In national tragedy and in personal ones, how do we balance the knowledge of suffering with love and hope and the very real fact that hope is not always realized on Earth? And where does all of that fit into our culture, with its consumeristic voyeurism and lack of humanity? How do we offer dignity and mercy, without feeding the consumerism or buckling under the weight of knowledge?