I haven’t read the news in over a month. As someone who ordinarily spends hours a day reading stories from any source I can get my hands on, I was nervous to step away from this habit that I believed connected me to others. But, unexpectedly, I have found myself feeling more connected in this time of disconnection.
To tell this story properly I have to start at the beginning. One of my most vivid childhood memories is the moment I heard about Sandy Hook. More than anything else, I remember how I felt: confused and scared, but really just hurt. I hurt for these people I did not know and had never met, because I understood even then that we are all part of a community that is impossibly large and diverse and complex. I felt their hurt as if it were my own, and most of all I hurt because I was given space to do so. As I grew up, without me ever realizing it, this space was invaded. It was invaded by news apps on my phones that bombard me with incessant alerts; an inundation of information that isn’t really important to our everyday life but we have somehow been convinced that we are bad citizens if we don’t know it.
Six years later, when I learned about Parkland, what I remember isn’t feeling scared or confused, but numb. There was a numbness that had been slowly building with each new alert, and it sealed me off. My friends and I sat around a table, absorbing the opinions of journalists more concerned with writing a story than the blood of students who just as easily could have been me. They were screaming about politics, when all I wanted to do was mourn the dead. But how do you mourn as you read about the “hyper-sensitivity” of that very reaction? Or when you are made to think that mourning isn’t as important as the political debates born from unexplainable cruelty and death?
After Parkland I started reading the news every day. I devoured op-eds, front pages stories, and clicked on every alert. I watched as forests burned and innocent civilians were gunned down in the streets. I wanted to break down and cry but I couldn’t really feel anything except angry or numb. They killed my home and my fellow citizens, they poured oil into precious ecosystems and then killed more to acquire more. They told me I had to know, I had to be aware, and in the same breath berated me for caring, for feeling. I became desensitized and detached, separate from this community because I thought reading about it would make me a part of it. I was so obsessed with knowing more and more, and somehow ended up feeling less and less.
In the months leading up to this trip I became even more dependent on news sources, hoping that they could provide me with clarity and insight about our current tumultuous world and our more uncertain future. I never found the answers I was looking for and it was partly because no one can really know, but it’s also because I was looking in the wrong places. I haven’t been learning from peer reviewed works or world renowned newspapers, but instead from listening to others and having an open mind. During the past five weeks, the group has had some really difficult revelations which have led to even harder conversations. Difficult in the sense that we have had to readjust and rethink our perspectives on the world, communities, success, ambition, money, food, and water. Sitting in a circle and listening to my friends talk about the ways they have been and the ways they are now has opened my eyes and my heart. I understand the world in a way that journalists could not have provided me. As a group, we have grieved for the people, animals, ecosystems, cultures, and traditions that we have lost. It has been a reminder that to not feel these tragedies is to lose our humanity. It has also been a reminder that reading a million news stories about a tragedy isn’t the same as sitting and mourning for it.
I believe that knowledge is power, that staying informed and involved is our civic duty as democratic citizens. But I also realize now how much more vital it is to cultivate relationships and understanding with real people, not with newspaper articles that provide a superficial sense of understanding. The real information is in people, in land, in the places we inhabit but ignore in our rush to participate in a society that has created too much pain, so that we are quicker to turn off our emotions rather than to solve the issues.
I am separate from the news cycle but that does not mean I am separate from the news. I’m learning in a new way, in a space where I can think and process and feel. A space focused on listening, understanding, and feeling.