…We seem to be living in the age of anesthesia, and it’s no wonder. Confronted with knowledge of dozens of apparently random disasters each day, what can a human heart do but slam its doors? No mortal can grieve that much. We didn’t evolve to cope with tragedy on a global scale. Our defense is to pretend there’s no thread of event that connects us, and that those lives are somehow not precious and real like our own. It’s a practical strategy, to some ends, but the loss of empathy is also the loss of humanity, and that’s no small tradeoff.Art is the antidote that can call us back from the edge of numbness, restoring the ability to feel for another.
Place this in context. The enormity of the World Trade Center crime is mind-numbing. Over 2000 people died. We all watched on television. But unless we find that ‘thread of event’, can we truly have empathy? I know someone who died in one of those buildings that day. She had been a friend for only about a year, but had an affect on me in that short time. So the sense of loss is heightened by the connection.
This year has witnessed a number of earthly disasters. A tsunami cut a swath across the Indian Ocean shorelines, killing thousands. Two hurricanes smash into the American side of the Gulf of Mexico, destroying entire cities and displacing a couple million people. And a major earthquake slices Pakistan; the death toll is now set at over 86,000.
The scope of these events is unfathomable. Each day’s news was more frightening than the day before: more pictures of devastation, higher numbers of dead, injured, orphaned, and the ever-shifting mass of refugees.
We can only relate by identifying with one loss, one death, one lost soul. We grieve for the gap that such a loss leaves in someone’s life, and act in some way to fill that gap. Only then can we understand that, multiplied by millions, our entire human family has suffered.