When disasters happen in far-off places in the world, some people I've run across shrug and say, "At least it wasn't here."
I can't fathom that response.
I can understand getting numbed by your own personal life and pains. I can understand not comprehending just WHAT the disaster really means -- the aftermath, for instance. Long after CNN quits reporting on things, the effects live on. Katrina isn't over. Haiti isn't over. So many things aren't over.
I understand, too, people feeling like they're constantly trying to help, running auctions for this and then for that, and oh my God, something else just happened. It becomes almost too much for the brain to handle. I understand that.
I've been to Japan. My husband lived in Okinawa for years and we both are checking on friends there and on other islands. We have friends in California (we lived there for a while, too). And we currently live in a town on the eastern shore of Maryland that is essentially surrounded by water, so when things like this happen -- we get that nagging worry in the back of our minds.
So what to do when things like this happen?
One is just to send out prayers, white light, Reiki, whatever your particular brand of healing love is to the people involved. It is so.very.hard to comprehend one minute life is fine, and one minute, no it's not.
Another is to think about this on the smaller scale, and be kinder to our fellow man. You never know when something might happen in the blink of an eye. Instead of scowling at the man who cut you off in traffic, think instead, "maybe he's rushing to something more important than I understand". Smile at people you don't know. A LOT. You never know what may have happened that day where a smile helped them turn the corner from a miserable day to a lovely day.
I didn't write this post as a downer -- it was hard to write and rewrite this to get it just-so and I'm sure I missed the mark. My main point is to have empathy as well as sympathy. Empathy is defined as "understanding and entering into one's feelings." Take your own life experiences, and take this, one of many tragedies that have hit the world, to help you make the space around you a better place in some small way.
Lori Anderson creates jewelry for her web site, Lori Anderson Designs, and wrote the blog An Artist's Year Off. She's also a contributor to Art Bead Scene.