You can’t get away from it. Every radio program, every TV station, websites, social media, newspapers, EVERYWHERE YOU TURN! Bad news. People suffering in so many ways, and hateful words spewing out of the mouths of leaders, elected officials, so-called clergy, neighbors, friends, even family. How do you decide what gets past your defenses and what glances off your well-worn armor? How do you decide what to care about and what to ignore? How does a person sleep at night when they think it only matters if it hurts them personally, but not if it hurts someone else?
Thinking back, I realize with no small amount of shame that I used to fall into a terrible pattern myself. If a human situation didn’t effect me I didn’t think it was important enough to care about, or even worse, there was something wrong with the people who were suffering. They somehow let themselves be put in those situations so it was their own fault they were suffering.
I wasn’t homeless, so it was easy to look down my nose at people living on the street. Get a job, I remember thinking to myself.
I remember believing that if you lived in the United States of America that you should learn to speak English.
Dressing that way, what did you expect to happen? All the guys will see are your boobs!
I remember playing games on the playground with names I can’t even bring myself to type on the keyboard now, full of racial slurs, homophobia, and hatred of what I did not know. I just knew no one else seemed to have a problem with those games. It wasn’t until we had a Black family move into the school district that those games suddenly felt wrong but I couldn’t pinpoint why.
Surely you could decide not to be gay, right? And cross-dressing was odd, fun to play along with, but nothing you really wanted to talk about.
The shame that burns my face with a bright red flame never dies. I was that person and I have to own it. But what changed? What happened to me in my life that has me thinking in such dramatically different ways now? Well, I don’t have an easy answer to that other than I grew up and lived life, met so many people and soaked up experiences as I went along that completely altered my way of being. It had been easy to go with the flow of the majority I was surrounded by, to blindly follow the bright colors of the flag, to hold others to a different standard based on nothing but uneducated myth and opinion.
Thinking for myself, opening my heart, becoming educated, learning empathy…….those things were hard, and they remain really hard. So many things to care about now! How can a person care about everything all at once? Homelessness, the opioid crisis, food deserts, cancer, veterans, LGBTQ rights, immigration, animal cruelty, climate change, sexual assault, misogyny, elections, police brutality against young black men….the list goes on and on and on. My heart hurts in exponentially more ways now than it ever did before. Wouldn’t it have been easier to stay in the dark? To shield my heart from the inevitable pain that grows out of empathy?
I look at the people living their lives without any concern or care for another living thing and I have to believe it is pretty hard to stay in the dark like that. It has to take a toll on a person’s heart. Where empathy causes pain because it swells the heart with love, disengagement and hate causes pain because it shrinks the heart and creates a darkness that surrounds the soul, blocking any warmth or light.
So much to care about, yes, but you can care about ALL of it! Don’t pick and choose one over another based solely on your own experience. Care about the immigrant even if you’ve never had an immigrant to your house for dinner. Care about climate change even if you don’t understand the science. Care about the victims of sexual assault even if you’ve never been assaulted. Care about transgender people because they are real, even if you think you don’t know any trans people (statistically you do, though, just so you know.)
Care. Care about all of it, be okay knowing you can’t fix all of it, but do what you can as often as you can. For some of us that means we talk a lot, trying our best to educate and change minds and open hearts. For others it means running for public office, or marching on the capitol or raising money for a cause. Whatever it is you are doing because your heart is swelling with love and desire to help, keep doing it. And then do more. Your heart can take it.