Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Horror and the Distant Stranger

I turned off the radio. Again.

Another horrifying case of child abuse has captured the media's attention. It happened in a nearby town, so the news is unrelenting. Again.

The announcer repeats the graphic description of the abuse on the half-hour. It is presented with justified outrage; augmented by sensationalism. We receive frequent updates revealing horrifying details as they are discovered. We are bombarded by breaking news of the unfolding legal investigation and resultant administrative finger-pointing.

Analysis is shared; opinions are offered. Recriminations abound. Justifications are put forth and rejected. Empathy, solutions, and accusations are presented in turn.

I learned of this abuse indirectly, from thirty miles away, days after it happened, over the radio. I don't know any of the people involved. I have no business or friends or reason to visit the town where it happened. I doubt I've been in that town. Maybe once when I was a child, to buy fish. I pass it sometimes on the highway. Heretofore, the town was a highway exit to me.

And yet I ache. We all ache. We all ache for the distant stranger. We ache for this three year old girl, in memory of the previous child, and in anticipatory despair for the next.

Caring people don't turn a deaf ear to suffering. Individuals of conscience stay informed in order to be in a position to prevent future crimes. We pray for the wisdom, strength and courage to confront evil when faced with it. Yet I have to do something to shield my heart, or it will break.

From previous experience, I have developed a self preservation ritual for when I find myself awash in news of human cruelty: I turn off the news and turn to my checkbook.

I can't make this not have happened. I'm not responsible that it did. I am not guilty. I am accountable, however, for my reactions to it.

It's a lie to think, "I can do nothing to help that girl." I can fund the efforts of and express support for those who are working to heal trauma, educate parents, and identify crimes. I can do his from my armchair. I can do this in my quiet living room. I can do this with the radio OFF. If nothing else, I can do this.

My best protection against succumbing to feelings of despair is the realization that I am not impotent.

This isn't news. Who hasn't found comfort and motivation from the words of Rabbi Tarfon, recorded in the Talmud, masechet Avot, "You are not required to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it"?
( לא עליך כל המלאכה לגמור, ולא אתה בן חורין ליבטל)

If you're in Massachusetts reacting to the recent New Bedford case of the three year old girl, I recommend making a donation to the Massachusetts Children's Trust Fund.

May it this case be the last.

3 comments, so far. Add yours now!

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RaggedyMom said...

I feel like since my own kids were born, hearing the news as it relates to children borders on unbearable. It is so difficult not to internalize these types of tragedies and get carried away mentally when I know more clearly as a mom what "three years old" actually means. Thanks for posting a concrete means to help.

Jeanne Tuthill said...

I know what you mean. The stories are so sad and the media just takes it too far.

I had not realized that we were practically neighbors. I'm in Western MA.

Seconding raggedymom, thanks for posting a small, yet meaningful way to help.

Juggling Frogs said...

RaggedyMom and Jeanne,

{Waving at Jeanne from across the state..}
All abuse is awful. But this latest case, in New Bedford, is just too gruesome for words.

Allowing the media to pour this horror into my home is debilitating.

This morning I woke up yet another story, of the mother who left her child with a homeless man who had a razor blade in his mouth.

I turned off the clock radio and just lay in bed. In the quiet of the radio-free morning, I could hear my kids were waking up and chatting.

The juxtaposition of the thoughts of the fate of that child, and of the New Bedford girl, and my chirping brood in the next room...

Sometimes it's too much to bear.

Yet, not to listen feels like a betrayal of those children. How can I say I can't endure hearing about what they had to endure in reality?

If you liked this article, congratulations! You have great taste. Please brew yourself a cup of coffee.
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