Disaster, priorities and a whole lot of perspective


I’ve had a post that I wanted to write for a long time. It was built on the idea that we are exposed to so much more of the world’s devastation than we ever used to be. On my Facebook newsfeed, there will be stories about rapes in schools, murders of people of color by police, animals being literally loaded alive into garbage trucks, child soldiers, the plight of refugees… the list goes on and on. I remember commenting on a video about a particularly heinous action by police in the US, asking if this was a new thing or if it was always happening and the world is finally being made aware of it. A friend responded by saying it always happened, but now everyone has a camera on their phone and can capture it. I was so devastated, until the next horror.

Lately, I’ve wanted to go on a bit of a news fast. Like an ostrich burying its head in the sand (which, by the way, they never do), I figured I’d hide from the news, hide from social media and just try to live in my own bubble of friends and loved ones. But the reality is that even that is wider than it ever was, and makes the news feel that much closer. It’s not just “oh, shame about London” – I have friends on Facebook who had to mark themselves as safe in the event. I have friends I actively worried about after the attacks in Brussels, in the storm in Cape Town, in the fires in the Eastern Cape. And I think that’s what’s making all the news, all the horror, all the disasters so much more profound.

We always lived in an interconnected world, but it was never in such real time. Perhaps we’d lose track of friends, only realizing after the fact that they were impacted by world events. Now, I know that an old camp friend was steps away from the Paris attacks. I know that the horrible storm in Cape Town blew one of my Cape Town friends’ chimney apart. But I was also able to put a colleague in touch with an ex-boyfriend of mine who works in the field he wants to go into. I’ve silently watched on Facebook as a very dear friend from my teenage years posts pictures about his kids, his family – filled with joy each step of the way without needing to even comment or make my presence known.

Social media has changed the news in a way news networks never could. I have to care about the UK elections, my friends might lose their health care. I have to care about the crisis in Venezuela, I know people whose parents still live there. All of this builds, though, and becomes overwhelming in a way that world news never was before. I used to consider myself informed about global issues. Now my heart is in the game, making me vulnerable in a way I don’t think any of us are prepared for or used to.

Recently, a twitter friend who I’ve met in person once or twice posted about the fires in Knysna. She described her connection to the town and how it prompted her to think about what she would take if her house were on fire. I think we’ve all gone down that list – what would be in the bag when you have 5 minutes to pack? In those moments, everything becomes replaceable except the truly irreplaceable. We save our animals, our kids, probably a phone and charger along with a wallet and maybe passport, vaccination cards and other documents that would be a mission to get again. Beyond that, who is really going to rush into a burning building to save “stuff”? Whether you’re a refugee from a war zone, or escaping a burning home, or simply looking at your life from a new perspective, it’s clear what really matters. Our loved ones, or means of communication and being known in society, our medications and health records. But our things? The “valuables” we use to clutter our lives? Not so much.

It makes me feel better about decluttering as much as possible. Dean and I aren’t going to move all our possessions to the US – only the ones that bring us joy. But I mean more than that. I need to declutter my priority list. I need to stop worrying about things I can’t control. I can reach out with love and support to those I care about, let them know that they are seen and heard. I can’t change the cycles of racism, violence or lack of humanity on a global level. The best I can do is help those in my immediate circle, which is bigger and more global than ever. I just hope that in the same way I’m more impacted by global phenomena, I can have a deeper impact as well.


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