on paying attention and then some

I saw an op-ed this morning decrying us for having lost sight of what is happening in Syria, now that our attention is on Gaza and how children are being treated at U.S. borders and the NYPD killing another African American man in an illegal chokehold for no reason (except the suspicion that he might be distributing illegal cigarettes?!) and even the EMTs failing to render aid . . . and so on. Truth tell, I haven’t forgotten Syria or Guantanamo or NSA abuses or the Obama administration’s war on whistleblowers and nonviolent protesters or the increasing militarization of domestic police forces or the rampant increases in inequalities and hunger and poverty not just here but in many lands or global warming and our planetary do-nothing approach to that or a slew of the other critical issues of our time.

But there is no way to pay attention to every single horrific thing at once; there is no way to do justice to all of them period; there is no way to signal, of any given day, that you still even care. We work where we live: we sign petitions, call and contact world and local leaders, make common cause with grassroots groups, donate money and time, do whatever we can where we can. But we also have to find some time and places to smile, to laugh even, to regroup and remember the good, to honor the kindhearted and generous, to pay tribute to those who try no matter what the cost. Some see this as being flighty, attached to nothing. I disagree. To be a human today means dwelling fully in spaces of freakish cognitive dissonance.

So when I cook or play music or share a clip of a funny moment on social media, I am not forgetting that the horror is still hot and bitter, always, for someone else—and in our world today, millions of somebodies—somewhere else. I am always better off than so many of them, from sheer dumb luck of birth and happenstance and g-ddamn skin color, and I cannot presume to understand fully their situations. I can weep from far away (or even close at hand), I can rage against injustice, but I cannot fully get inside their pain and suffering, even if I may previously have shared some small measure of it myself.

But I know that humanity needs all of its selves for transformations to ever fissure the hard systems and habits of now, and so I engage from where I am with that little goal in mind. I do more praying now than ever, to no particular god: just a part of me directed to the larger energies of which we are all a singular part: that we heal and be healed, that we find better ways to transform ourselves and our world for compassion, for love, for peace in our times. And then some.

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