Saturday, April 20, 2013

Giving Our Hearts A Break

Yesterday morning at 6:30, I showed up at the gym for my work-out. I hopped on the elliptical, plugged in my headphones, and wasn't quite ready for what I encountered on the TV:
"Late Night Gunfight in Boston"
"Two Brothers: One Dead, One Wanted"
"Police Chase Suspect Through Watertown Neighborhoods"
"Entire City of Boston Shut Down During Man Hunt"

It was an intensely surreal way to start my day. And I felt jarred. Or possessed. Or horrified. And yet, I couldn't look away. Or wouldn't look away. So I didn't. I stayed glued to that TV screen for the next hour. I watched the television in the locker room as I showered and changed. I listened to NPR's coverage on my way to work. On my break, I checked CNN. On the drive to the grocery store, I listened some more. I talked about it with friends. I eyed the television at the Mexican restaurant during dinner. Until, at last, the word "Found" came across the screen and I felt so relieved.

I sat at dinner with friends who said, "I haven't really kept up too much on what's happening in Boston" and I wanted to say, "How could you not keep up on what's happening in Boston?"

From 6:30 in the morning to 8 at night, the news stations had virtually nothing new to say: "We're still looking for this one guy," just said 37,000 different ways by a dozen different news platforms. And I kept watching. Nervously. Addictively. Needing to know what was happening as it was happening.

Not because I felt like this guy was going to show up at "my" front door.
Not because I have friends or family in Boston.
Not because I study terrorism and harbor a personal interest.
But because the entire day felt like an awfully real-life movie and I was exhausted.

I think we all are. 

Amy Poehler frames this idea well in this short Q&A about internet exposure:

She says, "I wonder if we could give our eyes a break. I feel like my eyes need a break. Don't you? If you do, take it. It's okay to not be looking at what everyone else is looking at all the time. To know what you're ready to see and not see. And to be okay with letting some things rest in peace."

I know she's right. I know I don't really need to see/know it all. And I wonder where this desire comes from.

Because I feel this way about many things. I will hear something or read something that I know full-well will absolutely make my blood boil and I seek it out anyway. It's as if I know it's going to hurt, I know it's a personal trigger, and I'm probably way too empathetic to be a healthy news watcher, but I do it anyway. As if the only way I can be any amount of help or sympathy is to engross myself in all this information to feel an ounce of the pain these people are feeling. 

Have you heard of "information anxiety"? "Compassion fatigue"? These are real things. And relatively new ones at that. We are inundated with the constant streaming of information and news updates at such a rapid speed we hardly notice its intensity anymore. 

During Shakespeare's time, a person would only be exposed to as much information as one issue of today's New York Times. In their entire life. 

We need to give our eyes a break.
Give our minds a break.
Give our hearts a break.

Not to ignore every little thing that makes us uncomfortable.
Not to avoid heartache by avoiding reality.
Not to be blissfully ignorant.

But to be intentional.
And whole.