It’s Okay to Look Away

We have all been driving, going along our merry way, when traffic slows and halts. Something has happened to interrupt the flow of our travel. Undoubtedly many of us are guilty of gawking: the stalled semi; the fender bender; or, God forbid, the kind of thing where Life Flight was called in.

Our country needs some kind of Life Flight; in the past two weeks in Ferguson and Staten Island; in follow up to August in North Carolina. I’m not a news junkie. I don’t take a daily paper. I do not watch the evening news. Still, I have been riveted to learning as much as I can about these three cases. But, I have to look away. It’s too much.

The violence. The race issues. The protests. The outcries. The deniers. The blame. The death. The excuses.

Before you write me off, stick with me a few minutes. I’m not going to tell you it’s the holiday season so be happy, be compassionate, and buy nice presents. Neither am I going to analyze the news of the aforementioned situations. I’m not going to point out cat videos or cow pictures on Face Book to divert you from the multitude of issues that surround the working (or lack thereof) of grand juries and the legal system.

I am going to say: there are a lot of things happening in this world right now.  And, it’s okay to take a breath.

Let’s take a peek:

1. In the New York Times today there was a correction that the Royal Desert Forces in Jordan carry ghee, not lard as was reported in an article last week. Who cares? Why does this even need to be corrected? Because the difference between ghee (clarified butter) and lard (often rendered from pork) is significant to Muslims around the world.

Not impressed? I wasn’t really, either. But, it was interesting and I needed to look away.

2. The 2014 Notable Book List has been released. There’s something for everyone there. May I recommend Bone Clocks by David Mitchell? Perhaps a tome that’s not on this list, but has my rapt attention at the moment: What We See When We Read by Peter Mendelsund? Or, Elephant Rocks by Kay Ryan if you’re in the mood for lighter verse. Want to see what kids are reading? Look here.

I needed to read words that were not vitriolic and divisive and mongering. I had to look away.

3. Newcastle ended Chelsea’s unbeaten run. Soccer, folks. Check it out. I don’t follow soccer except in World Cup years, so this served as a diversion. It’s very European.

It helped me look away.

4. Hey, did you know that Ebola is not over? I know American reporting has moved on – for the moment- but, Ebola is still a real issue.  On the front page of today’s New York Times you can see what I’m talking about. There are very real people dying. An empty clinic. Delayed blood testing.

Horrifying. But, we need to be reminded that just because it’s not on the front page of the Gazette or Chronicle, does not mean cures have been found and all is well.

5. Locally, New Pioneer Food Co-op is opening a new store in Cedar Rapids. This is a great place to browse, get a snack, and do some healthful shopping. You can become a shareholder, too.

Like I said, I had to look away.

But here’s the thing: I also have to look back. I can’t just push Ferguson and Staten Island out of my mind and go about business as usual. Yes, these incidents will fade from our collective consciousness, but they should not. Even someone as innocuous as I am must face what has been happening and what continues in our country. I have to make the lives lost and the forces that took these lives and the disregard for these lost lives some part of my personal story. I am a human being and that which happens to one happens to all.

My sister, an historian and political scientist, had Martin Niemoller’s quotation on her refrigerator at her home and in her university office:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

We are all connected. Like me, you may need to look away for a minute. Please don’t forget to look back. Violence and social justice and race are part of our times. Our lives. Our country. Our shared history. This matters. You matter.

What happens in this world matters.

 

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