On television, on the Internet, from friends and family, we hear the "news." This "news"—a kaleidoscope of sensation, a spectacle of heartbreak—leaves us with nothing to do or say.
We turn off the TV and cry just a second for horror, but inevitably subside into helplessness. Everything in us surges and wishes for a half-moment, but we're not Mr. Obama. There is nothing to be done. A single black wave of emotion is all we can afford. A small token to a life cut short, but there it is. We're drained of emotion.
But do we move? Do we actually do something for Pete's sake and crying out loud?
No. We sit back on our heels and cry a second and then scroll down to the next thing. Baby shower, night on the town, reminiscence, old friends, photo, photo-with-cool-filter, lunch out, diamond ring, death in the family, #beautiful, global warming, the Hindenburg...all tangled and blurred into a newsfeed of life and love and pain and evanescent pleasure passes in front of our eyes in five-second soundbites. Witness our Facebook-trawling-Twitter-scrawling-Pinterest-stalling-YouTube-squalling generation as it tries with its Sesame Street attention span to comprehend worldwide devastation and the kind of grief that ends its own life.
There's nothing left to do at the end of five minutes than turn off the screens and face reality in all its dull plainness. In this world "tragedy" is a broken date, "drama" a lost key, "terror" the shock of losing a child in the supermarket. The smallest things eat our days with frustration and anger. Blood spilled on Middle Eastern sand has no place with the diapers and the lattes and the paperweights of everyday life. No wonder there's no connection in our brains.
It's harsh and hard out there, we know it. Our hearts bleed for the pain and cruelty. But the brain explodes with so much knowledge. There's too much to think, too much to feel, and we shut down. Like a computer, a car, a sewing machine, old batteries...we collapse and the light goes out because there's nothing to be done. Hello, apathy. Welcome, Negligence.
Is this worthy of condemnation?
Must we shake ourselves awake with more gore and trauma?
Or is this in fact human nature?
Were we meant to drink it all in, to feel so much, to comprehend it all? We think that more knowledge will make us more learned, that stuffing "news" into our brains will make us more sensitive, more-worldly wise, but what if it's killing us? A slow drip of poison makes one immune.
Where is the disgrace in limiting emotion to the sphere of our own pain? What do we gain by knowing about and feeling the torture of billions when the grief of two lives—maybe three—suffice? 200 years ago the farmer on upland prairies never cried for the Aborigine, or the Turkish warrior, or the English diplomat. He saved his tears for his daughter, and for his crops.
And what is so inhuman about that?