This past weekend, I was in St. Louis for a symposium on religious life hosted by the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious (all the details coming in a story later this week), and it was one of the strangest journalism experiences of my life. Not the symposium itself, but the timing.
For whatever reason, the TV was on in my hotel room when I first arrived, and literally as I set down my suitcase, I heard the breaking news that there had been an attack in Paris. Traffic had put me behind schedule, so I had about 30 seconds to process this information before I had to run out the door to get downtown for the symposium’s opening keynote.
Once I got downtown, I spent most of my prep time on Twitter as I was planning to live-tweet the symposium; I was asking followers which breakout session they wanted me to tweet the next day, checking out what had already been posted to the symposium hashtag, getting Twitter handles for the weekend’s speakers. Things like that. But as soon as I got out of my little world, being on Twitter also meant I was thrown into a digital deluge of photos, articles and tidbits about the Paris shootings.
Suddenly, my tweets about the symposium felt inappropriate. I felt foolish. I mean, I knew it was my job to report on the symposium — regardless of what else was happening in the world — but I felt ridiculous seeing my tweets about following or muting me for the weekend juxtaposed with tweets carrying so much pain and loss and devastation.
But isn't that life?
There's tragedy every day, but the world keeps going. It doesn't slow down because I feel pain or you feel pain. The world keeps spinning, seasons keep changing, and other people keep living their lives.
I mention all of this because I've been thinking a lot about grief these last few days. In a sea of Facebook and Twitter profiles photos superimposed with the French flag, a number of my friends have wondered aloud why there wasn't a similar outpouring for Beirut, where 43 people died in a suicide bombing that same day. I've been thinking about why some tragedies are more important to us that others.
I've been thinking about the reasons I tweeted support for Paris (possibly because I felt stupid being online and ignoring the issue) and why I didn't tweet about Mizzou (because as a black woman, sometimes talking about racism is spiritually draining for me, and rather than to speak, I need time to be silent).
Years ago, I interviewed a Mennonite grandmother who had been arrested more times that she could remember for civil disobedience — usually protests against nuclear weapons or drone warfare. Sitting in her living room, I asked her how she had the capacity to care so passionately about so many things.
I said, "It's not possible to care about everything." Her eyebrows shot up, and I was immediately struck by how silly that statement must have sounded to her. How silly, in retrospect, it sounded to me. I rephrased: "It's impossible to do something about everything."
Is it the same way with tragedy and grieving? I think Christians have an obligation to share in the suffering of others, even if it's just online. (Someone recently said that if you can chose to look away from a disturbing image or story, that's privilege. Indeed.) But we can't do something about everything. Not every tragedy can or will elicit the same response from us.
But I'm praying for peace this week. For every heart and for every soul — for those who are experiencing tragedy and for those who will. And I'm praying for the perpetrators of these crimes, praying that they will also come to know peace and love and light. Because that's what I can do right now.
[Dawn Araujo-Hawkins is Global Sisters Report, based in Kansas City, Missouri. Follow her on Twitter @dawn_cherie]