Coping with global trauma
By Lt(N) Padre Graeme Carruth
“That’s it! I’m done with watching the news!” Every week I hear some version of that phrase. Many or maybe all of us, get sick of listening to the barrage of horrific news that bombards us. The news of global tragedy can traumatise us damaging our sense of hope: Hope for life, hope for the decency of people. Remember, if you’re that old, when we rang in the 21st century? Remember all our hopes for a progressive and positive new direction for life and the world? Well, it seems the shine has long since worn off the new age. So much has happened to shake our confidence in humanity’s capacity to react with compassion, understanding and creative solutions to the challenges and conflicts confronting us. The shooting of innocent people in a New Zealand mosque, the random burning of an ancient French cathedral, the bombing of innocent church goers in Sri Lanka, the one-year memorial of a van attack on pedestrians in Toronto. With each occurrence maybe some of us even question our faith in God.
Is there any way out? Is there any way to restore hope that doesn’t feel like we’re sticking our heads in the sand?
I believe there is.
When I returned to Canada after many years working overseas as an expat pastor, I was happy to be back in the Great White North that had raised me. Unfortunately it wasn’t long before the ideal image I had carried in my heart about my homeland ran painfully aground against the reality of the True north, strong and free. What helped me through was realising that my image wasn’t wrong exactly, but it was incomplete. While there were things I deeply value and love about Canada, there are also things that trouble me. And most important, it helped to realise that it’s possible to love and treasure even when the reality does not line up with the idealised image.
In fact this is what we do with people. Family members, friends, beloved spouses – children, they all have qualities that help us to love them but also quirks that make it sometimes hard. And yet love them we do, believe it them we do, trust and stand by them we do.
I have found the same is true in our very troubled world. Remembering that while there is tragedy in the violence there is also great compassion and community that grows in response. We see it in the national, even global, support for the wounded Muslim community in Christchurch, or the swelling support for the Christians in Sri Lanka or the people who gathered to sing hymns around Notre Dame even as firefighters struggled to limit the damage. To paraphrase the gifted poet, “It’s so hard to see hope’s gems when you’re looking through a crown of thorns, but those pearls are there to find, and goodness comes with each newborn.”
Finally, I find in these examples another valuable aid. When we despair with the bad news around us, we can use that to motivate us to positive action. Maybe challenge the negativity by deliberately helping a neighbour or connecting with someone who doesn’t have many friends. Perhaps participate in a town clean up. The opportunities for overcoming evil with good are endless. And if it seems too small or insignificant, listen to the wisdom of St. David of Wales who reminded us to remember the little things, for by them God has changed the world.