Friday, October 24, 2014

Vicarious Pain

I like to read the news. I'm always a little bit behind, because I get it from a weekly magazine, but I really like my magazine (The Week). At first it confused me, because it seemed to completely contradict itself in some articles, but then I realized the magazine itself is a sampling of all the other news outlets, so the contradiction comes from the fact that there are often multiple viewpoints on the same issues. So now I actually appreciate the opposing views, because it is more balanced.

It also has excerpts from news articles published all over the world, and it is enlightening to get outside of America once a week as I read what issues other countries are dealing with.

But sometimes instead of enlightening, it is more like suffocating. Or paralyzing. Overwhelming.

There is just so much pain out there. So many people who have forgotten that a person is a person regardless of religion or nationality or race or language accent or disability or gender.

And sometimes the stories really incapacitate me for a while. My American problems seem so trivial. And they are. That isn't to say my stress and pain isn't real, but it is so nothing comparatively.

And sometimes it makes me feel like my everything is nothing. Makes me wonder what the point is to me being happy when there are so many people who are sad. And I just feel awful and imagine over and over again the atrocious events of the world over happening to my country, my family, myself.

Eventually I get to a point where I can't even try to imagine their pain anymore, and I try to shake myself out of it, because it doesn't help them for me to feel awful. It doesn't help them if I ignore my kids or stop smiling or lie in bed.

Sitting around feeling guilty and miserable only makes my family's life worse, but it certainly doesn't make their lives better. So, I snap out of it, and get moving. I start small, making my home a happy place for my kids. Then I get bigger, saying "good day" to everyone I see and smiling at them. Then I go even bigger, picking up trash in my neighborhood, driving courteously, talking to the person next to me on the bus or in line, researching the charities that send me letters asking for donations, signing up for service opportunities when I hear about them.

And the cycle continues.

Go through day to day. Learn of atrocities. Feel unable to function in a world where things like that are possible. Keep pushing forward. Try to find ways to help others. Go through day to day. Read about horrors. Feel devastated at the inhumanity. Search for service. Go through day to day.

Always repeating.

And sometimes I wonder if I am weird. If I feel too much. If it is not normal to cry over strangers' pain.

A few weekends ago was the General Women's Conference for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I had the opportunity to watch it at my stake center (a church building larger than the regular meetinghouses, but not a temple) with my fellow sisters (women ages eight and up).

There were many inspiring messages, but for me it was overshadowed by unspeakable pain. And I wonder if I'm alone in that, or how many others felt that way.

At one point, a beautiful video montage was shared of sisters around the world sharing their testimonies about what the temple means to them. And one sister shared her personal story of losing all six of her children at the same time. She was in her house doing laundry, and her children were right outside the door playing in the front yard when an earthquake hit. Her next door neighbor's house was on higher ground than hers, and it completely collapsed onto her yard, killing all of her children. She went on to say how much she appreciates the peace she feels in the temple and how much it means to her to know that she will be with her family forever in heaven. Obviously, her sorrow is not fresh. I am sure she went through her own cycle of grief before coming to the place where she is now, but for me, the story was fresh. It was brand new. I had not heard it before nor had time to process it and come to terms with it, and it completely overwhelmed me.

The video went on, the talks went on, with women saying inspiring words, but my brain was gone. I was in that earthquake. I wondered if her children had time to cry out. If the mother ever had any hope that any of them lived. If she screamed. If she prayed to find children instead of corpses. I wondered how long it took her to dig them out. If she had anyone to help her, or if she was all alone uncovering them one by one. If she screamed while she clawed through the debris. If her hands bled as she tried to uncover just one living child. If she had strength to continue without stopping until they were all freed or if she collapsed from the grief and labor while some of her children were still buried in rubble.

I sat in my pew sobbing. Ugly crying. Face distorted. Pain searing through my body, unable to be contained, as I imagined different scenarios of what it could have been like, and still knowing that what I felt was like a candle next to the sun if compared to what that mother must have felt in that moment and in the weeks following.

It is moments like this that make it very obvious to me that I could never be a counselor. I could never hear stories of sorrow and abuse and actually be able to come up with anything constructive or helpful to guide people along journeys of healing. I would really only be able to cry with them, and sure that is what people need sometimes, but they also need more than that to move on.

Today, there was a school shooting in a small town in Washington state, north of Seattle. Another school shooting. Another one. I live in a country where I can't even walk into my child's school without buzzing, explaining myself, having the door unlocked, showing identification, and then signing into the office. And even then, my child is escorted to me (unless I'm there to volunteer, and then there are other steps involved but I am allowed into the school past the office). (I am grateful for these procedures but sad that they are necessary.) Schools should be safe. Neighborhoods should be safe. Homes should be safe. I'm so naïve, aren't I? I dare to think that the world should be safe.

I am moving to Mexico soon. To a town with a bloody past that is working very hard to get past it and revitalize itself. I have friends from Mexico. I have heard their stories of why they left Mexico. I have listened as they described violence and fear, walking for days, carrying children, and arriving in a new country with nothing but hope to sustain them. I wonder what new stories I will learn while I am in Mexico. Even my friends who have left Mexico still love it, and I hope to experience that too: the energetic music, the family gatherings, the spicy food, the joy of life. Perhaps the joy is even richer now after enduring through so many trials. Not that the trials are over. There are still cases unsolved and homicides occurring, but life amazingly marches on.

Soon it will be the three year anniversary of the death of my niece Tabitha. I really am not sure how that happened. I remember her so vividly. She was only four months younger than Daniel. And it still feels like she should be here, breathing, learning to write her name, handing books to my brother to read to her, helping her mommy stir the batter, twirling with Emily, playing with Thomas, and kissing Arthur. But life amazingly marches on.

And so do I.

We visited Tabitha's "house" while in Michigan earlier this month. 
The children put these cheerful flowers on her grave.

 Alice gifted my parents with some serious snuggle time this visit.

My brother Daniel with his youngest, Arthur

Pappy and GranB grew some seriously large carrots and potatoes this year.

Arthur with his favorite aunt.
Just kidding. I have a lot of competition in that department.

A sneak peek at Collett Baby #4.
See you in the spring, sweet baby!