Friday, August 24, 2012

Public Displays of Affection

There have been three newsworthy shootings in the last few weeks. One was the Aurora shooting at a movie theater in the Colorado community. One was the shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. And one, today, was in New York City, where a shooter shot four people in front of the Empire State Building. People make very public proclamations of sadness, but these proclamations seem a bit disingenuous to me. I wonder if the public sadness -- the near wailing and gnashing of teeth that can seem to take place by people who don't know a thing about the victims -- is more a sadness over having our general bubble of security burst in such an intrusive way.

You see, terrible things happen every day. Almost every day I will have at least one moment when a feeling will grip me and send my body into terror. I will be driving along on the highway, for instance, happily finished with the work day, and I'll think, "Something bad is happening to someone right now, and there's nothing I can do about it." I'll feel panicked, helpless, and overwhelming sadness all at once. I feel an intense feeling I cannot name; it's most likely just the unnameable meaninglessness that comes up for me in the face of life's seeming cruelty. I'm seeing a therapist for this tendency of mine. It's not so much that I'm a negative person. It's more that I feel that the only meaning I can find in life is the desire to make things better, and making things better depends first on recognizing that things need to be made better in the first place. I'm told that most people don't think this way. They allow themselves to be distracted by the comforts of their lives. At least, until a shooting happens in a very public way at the right time in the news cycle, garnering lots of coverage and sparking a public discussion of how unsafe we all are.

As if we were ever safe.

My therapeutic treatment actually involves distraction. I'm supposed to do something else when these thoughts come up. I understand there really isn't anything I can do about an unknown victim somewhere in the world. But distraction feels like part of the problem. If there is any evil in materialism, it is that it tricks us into believing that life is inherently comfortable. A recent study showed that people who make less money give more to charity than those with more. They know that life is bad. They don't forget. People are dying every day, but many of us only choose to mourn when it cannot be ignored.

But I wonder if we're really just mourning for ourselves.

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