Processing Tragedies Requires Reflection

After the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school last February, I spent hours scrolling through stories about the victims. I learned about their passions, their families and even found social media accounts belonging to victims and friends. Joaquin Oliver, for example, loved Frank Ocean and dyed his hair blonde as a tribute. Carmen Schentrup was not only a scholar, but also had really great style.

Although I am lucky enough to have never lost anyone important to me to a senseless act like this, I was so overcome with the sense that I was not feeling enough. That I was not hurting enough after such an atrocity. I forced myself to learn as much about their lives and the shooting itself, with the sense that it was the only way to pay tribute to their existence. As a result, I spent about a month carrying this weight on my shoulders. I would fall asleep thinking about it, bring it up in conversations only to get overwhelmingly upset and reread articles when I felt that I was forgetting.

While I battled with one mass shooting, there have been 325 others in 2018. California’s recent wildfires have been the worst in the history of the state, children in Yemen are dying of starvation at alarming rates and tear gas is being deployed on immigrants at the Mexico-U.S. border. How does one digest, reflect on and reconcile all of this?

I know — this sounds selfish and I shouldn’t complain. I am alive, my family is alive and my friends are alive. But, it’s a genuine struggle for me. I can’t figure out how to handle the horrible, heartbreaking things in this world. I either find myself completely blocking it out of my mind or deeply immersing myself in the sadness and pain that accompanies tragedies. However, when it comes down to it, neither of these perspectives are productive for either myself or the issues at hand.

The clash between desensitization and overexposure with saddening news is not a unique concept to my life. Almost all of us choose, whether implicitly or explicitly, which tragedies to invest ourselves in and which to understand only through CNN notifications. In many ways, this is the only option we have — we cannot put pressure on ourselves to bear the entire burden of all of the negativity in this world. Humans also have a job to live a life of happiness and meaning; so, we shouldn’t need to put grief in the foreground of our existence. 

To attempt an answer to the question I posed earlier, making sense of the news begins with a balance. Stay informed, but don’t overwhelm yourself with the details. Be empathetic, but don’t let the idea of hopelessness run your life. If you find yourself in the position of the former statements, donate to a cause, volunteer for a group, spread awareness within your friend groups or do anything of this capacity that will make a tangible difference. In no way is this a complete solution, but it is a reminder to be cognizant and reflective. I don’t know if I will ever find a way to “correctly” process tragedies, but thinking about how one can is the first step to working through some of the most jarring aspects of the human existence.