I have a habit of posting really trivial stuff just as horrible news is breaking. Last Monday I wrote about what makes people “like” something I’ve written and then I saw the news about the Boston Marathon bombings. So there it was, the trivia of my daily preoccupations set against something really important.
This morning I was thinking of writing something but first I caught up on the news. Boston is shut down as one of the alleged killers is being pursued. A Texas fertilizer plant turns into an even bigger killer. Chicago is flooded. The Senate chickens out on gun control.
I decided to postpone writing about the Zen of sewing. Maybe later, when the news has calmed down (when will that ever happen).
When I was traveling in Congo last year I would use occasional Internet access to catch up on Facebook and other news and I would think how trivial everything happening in the USA seemed—even disasters—in the context of the struggle for survival that engaged every Congolese I knew.
It’s not that they were leading tragic lives, but they were living more intensely. Everything about life in Congo seemed more intense: pain, struggle, joy, gratitude, love, conflict, beauty, ugliness. Being in the presence of this intensity was both exhausting and exhilarating. I miss it a little now. Perhaps my hesitance to write about my life in the face of Really Big News is really a regret at the loss of intensity.
We feel empathy with those in the news, those who are really suffering. But there is something artificial about the way our national attention swings from one city to another, one distant or not-so-distant tragedy to another, our empathy drawn out over degrees of separation that only emphasize our individual powerlessness to console, heal, prevent, protect.
Living intensely is the opposite of living at the remove of distance, the remove of the news. You can only live your own life intensely, not other people’s lives.
I think of this in relation to Newtown. We have been moved by that tragedy but not enough to enact decent gun laws because too many powerful interests, deep national divisions stand in the way. Too many degrees of separation between our empathy and real change. The “timing” isn’t right; the politicians can’t manage both immigration reform and gun control in the same session.
I’m not saying we are entirely powerless. We can throw the bastards out. But that takes time, organization, determination, working together. It takes intensity, which means bringing it into the days of your own life. Like maybe working in a political campaign.
Meanwhile, I’m practicing intensive living. Some days that just means doing a sewing project and learning something from it. Maybe I’ll write about it, maybe I won’t.