Looking up from my computer screen, I see blue sky, green
bushes and pink flowering trees. In the northwest, we don’t take that scene for
granted. Coupled with the serenity of the library where I am working, all seems
well with the world.
That is an illusion, of course. I came to this spot seeking
such an impression. I am yearning to escape from a bombardment of news that
includes updates on the Boston marathon bombings, breaking news that Syria is
using chemical weapons, the collapse of a factory building in Bangladesh with
hundreds of casualties and other joy-sapping items. On a more personal front, I
have been deluged with reports of serious illnesses with requests to add the
sick to my prayers, articles about the tragic death of a young girl in a
pedestrian accident and links to introspective pieces about troubled marriages,
mental illness and other challenging life experiences.
Relatively few years ago, I would not have known of much of
this. While I used to read a morning newspaper or tune into the radio for a
quick news update, it wasn’t a constant companion through my day. While I knew
of sad occurrences taking place in my local and intimate social circle, word of
personal tragedies around the world didn’t intrude into my space.
Think about this for a moment. While there is an occasional uplifting column
in the news, the function of the media is to present what’s going wrong. If
today’s headline is Syria using chemical weapons or deaths in Bangladesh that
does not follow days of headlines reporting on countries whose governments are
peaceful or whose populations enjoyed productive and pleasant weeks. Hundreds
of marathons without crises do not receive attention. At least, when I confined my newsgathering to
once a day, negativity did not surround me.
Prior to the ubiquitous presence of the Internet in my life,
the tragedies in the lives of those I know were offset by the joys. Yes, I
heard of a friend’s stillborn infant or a relative who was diagnosed with
cancer, but at least as frequently and usually more often, I heard of an
engagement, a birth or other celebratory events. Now that everyone is connected
to everyone else, I am asked to add my prayers to those of thousands of others
around the world, pleading for a complete recovery for people I have never met
or previously heard about. The ill
person’s name is posted on a Jewish website that I frequent or mentioned on a
blog that I enjoy reading. While I appreciate the opportunity to participate in beseeching Heaven,
some days the abundance of bad news is debilitating.
The urgent emails notifying
me of crises are not offset by joyous reports. No one posts that their cousin’s
husband’s niece gave birth, but they (understandably so) seek prayers if the
baby is months premature and survival is unsure. I’m invited to share in the sorrows but never
told of the celebrations or the normal, uneventful daily lives that pass
without horrifying interruptions.
This is our reality. We can access news non-stop and
disseminate information at the click of a mouse. Geographic distance is no
barrier to communication. This is, in many ways, a wonderful advance. Yet, it
carries with it the danger of being overwhelmed by gloom. We can come to expect bad rather than good. I
am taking one step to protect myself from pessimism. I have changed my home
page to a site that searches for uplifting stories, the kind that make you
smile and walk a bit more spiritedly. If I want the (bad) news, I can easily
find it, but I am working to make it a less pervasive presence in my life.