This past week has me feeling heavy. I’ve felt heavy with the devastating news of recent school shootings in the U.S. and horrific stories of Syrian refugees abroad trying simply to survive. I’ve been struggling to process and understand the loss I see perpetuated on my television screen, on my Facebook newsfeed, in the chatter of colleagues and neighbors.
Do you ever read tragic news about strangers or even about a person you know of but never met and feel completely engulfed by sadness?
This happens to me on a near constant basis. I don’t know why some stories of loss affect me more than others. It’s strange how I can hear of a friend’s relative, whom I knew distantly, passing away and not feel as though my world is rocked. But I’ll see a car crash on the news—in which a 5-year-old boy and his mother die—and I will instantly start sobbing.
I’ll read a story online about a woman in China who was swallowed, and subsequently killed, by a faulty escalator and the image haunts me for the rest of the afternoon. I’ll read an article about a boat full of people escaping to Greece, how the boat sunk and no one survived, and the weight of this loss crushes me as I sit at my desk at work, trying unsuccessfully to focus on spreadsheets and emails.
I’ll scroll through the recent posts on Humans of New York and read about a young woman whose husband disappeared in the black, desolate sea after giving his life vest to another woman then swimming for hours—and I feel destroyed. My heart breaks. I cry. I shake with anger, with utter incomprehension at the sharp and searing and inexplicable hate and unfairness that permeates the world.
I lose focus. I feel as though I can’t move forward. I imagine my family or loved ones experiencing the same type of suffering and my tears begin anew. And then comes the guilt. The guilt for my privilege, my safety, my luck, the ease with which I’ve lived my life to this point. I feel guilty for having problems, guilty for complaining about them, guilty for being given so much when others have so little, guilty for feeling such deep sadness when nothing terrible at all is occurring in my own life. Guilty for shedding tears that I didn't earn, that perhaps aren’t mine to shed.
And there’s confusion, too. Confusion at the injustice of it all, the cruelty, the pain, the heartbreak. And I sit there and feel—among my guilt and confusion and pain—utterly helpless.
The world is full of catastrophe and destruction and suffering and tragedy. Yet as much as it’s uncomfortable to experience the emotions that go hand in hand with these universal certainties of loss, it’s important.
Because the world is also full of light and generosity and beauty and love. And our appreciation for all that is good and light and joyful is only augmented by the pain we see and experience.
It would be easy to turn a blind eye to these current horrors. It would be so easy to be ignorant—all I’d have to do is go online less, listen to the news less, discuss less with the people around me. But I don’t think ignoring these cases of human struggle does anyone any favors, least of all those of us who are highly sensitive and empathetic.
I don’t have answers for why the terrible shit that happens in the world happens. I don’t have solutions, either. I’m not a politician, an experienced activist, a humanitarian, a religious worker, a medical professional, a sociologist, or a savior.
But I am a human being. And that is the single credential any of us ever needs to do good in this world. We cannot erase human suffering, we cannot cure the pangs of loss, and we cannot prevent the inevitable. But we can make this world an easier, lighter, more loving, more transcendent place to spend our lives by choosing how we connect and interact with one another.
At the root of all human suffering is the relationship between humans—we have the power to hurt one another, wound each other with our words and weapons, kill each other with recklessness. But so too do we have the power to uplift one another, to support one another, to be kind to one another, to give without hesitation or agenda, to show compassion, to listen, to nourish, to empower, to teach, to love.
And at the root of all human love also lies the relationship between humans.
It starts with every individual, this love. Its starts in the way we speak to one another, the way we acknowledge one another’s joy, the way we meet one another in our pain, the way we look at one another with non-judgment, the way we forgive, the way we support someone’s dreams by sharing the weight of them in our own two hands.
And knowing that I have the power to create compassion, positive energy, love, excitement, joy, and possibility simply by sharing my light with those around me—that is magic. It is the one thing I can control, the one thing I can start doing today—right now—to create a better world for myself, my loved ones, and all the loves ones I have yet to meet.
So if you’ve been sharing my feelings of helplessness and disillusionment with the world lately, know this: you are not alone and neither is any person on this planet who has ever felt fear, abandonment, devastation, and struggle. Your feelings are justified and normal. Since each of us is connected, when one of us suffers, we all suffer at the core. And when one us of triumphs, we all triumph.
You have the capacity to make the world shine a little brighter every day that you choose to show love, kindness, and grace to those around you.
So do it. Do what you can with what you have. It will strip nothing from you to share your love.
Hold your palms wide open to the world and give everything you have. And if you do, one day your hands will be in that same position, open to receiving someone else’s selfless offering when you need it most.
If you haven’t been reading the refugee series on Humans of New York, get yourself to Facebook and make it happen. The stories are eye-opening, perspective-shifting, earth-rattling tales of human resilience and courage. HONY's creator, Brandon Stanton, tells the stories of refugees seeking a new life and of the kind-hearted people along the way helping to facilitate their asylum. It is the single most informative and humanized view of the refugee crisis being shown right now. I can’t recommend it enough.
If you want to contribute something to the people across the world showing up every day and making a difference in the lives of these humans—either by clothing them, feeding them, sheltering them, or befriending them—you can read this article, which lists many possible ways to give money, volunteer, or offer material goods.
Or you can donate here directly to UNHCR (the UN refugee agency). They are organizing and running refugee camps in Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon, as well as providing additional resources and aid to refugees all across Europe. It’s a super secure donation process and you know exactly how your money is being used.
Lastly, if anyone else has been feeling the way I have and wants to talk, please feel free to comment or send me a message. Love and light to all.