Looking In

In the wake of an attack, normality can be the strangest thing of all.

When the first reports came out of London, my heart sank. This seemed to have the earmarks of a scene that we’d witnessed many times in different forms – the public spectacle, the first word of fatalities, the wait for information that would link this all to terrorism. The chaos had begun again and I waited to see the next familiar steps of the dance.

And then someone turned down the music.

I don’t mean that the attacks near Parliament completely fell off the radar screen. But for an American, unless you were looking for more accounts, they seemed to get quickly pushed to the background. By Saturday,  if you did a quick drive-by of online news and social media, it’d be easy for someone on this side of the Atlantic to miss that anything had happened at all.

Why?

The distance? France was farther and #prayforparis remained an online trend for days in 2015.

The low number of casualties? It’s true that this produced (thankfully) few deaths – no bombs in the crowd, no mass shootings or falling buildings to endanger more lives.

The most likely explanation, my reporter brain suspects, is that there’s only so much media oxygen to consume and most of America’s was being tied up in the Congressional health-care drama as the Republican proposals came to a screeching halt. What was left seemed to be consumed by the intelligence hearings. That sort of follow-the-leader isn’t uncommon, especially when local stakes are high and newsroom budgets are thin.

But when even the social media ripples are few (outside of English friends and sources, of course),  that suggests that much of the audience has moved on, too.

This either suggests something very good or very bad.

On the one hand it could mean that, like the English during the Blitz of World War II, we’ve finally become good at carrying on normal life in the face of those trying to disrupt it, that we’ve gained some perspective about how to sort out the severe from the sad. I’d like to think that, I really would.

But it’s also possible that there are just too many alarms on the bridge. When crises seem to fill the headlines, when every story demands your attention (with or without justification), how easy is it to become numb to one more alert? At what point are there too many things to invest your heart in any given one?

At what point do people, do countries, say “Forget the rest of the world, I’ve got my own problems?”

It’s easy to do. Problems need to be attended to, whether it’s a fight to make sure your family is cared for, or a struggle to address or prevent national calamities. Attention can’t be everywhere and priorities have to be made.

But when eyes turn too far inward, when our neighbor’s problems become invisible in the face of our own, we become less of an “us” and more of a crowd of scattered “me’s.” Worse, we miss the chances for shared strength that can come as we reach for each other and face down our mutual problems as one.

We don’t need to be traumatized by every new peal of the bell. That way lies fatigue and madness. But we can’t close the door and pull the shades either. Care for self and care for others need not be exclusive from one another. Should not be. Cannot be.

Be someone’s helping hand. Be someone’s neighbor. Even if all you can offer is attention and sympathy, pay it. It spends well.

Together, we can build a “normal” worth having.

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