Like so many others, I have struggled this week with the many stories of death and human tragedy that have been flooding my social media feeds.
War rages on in Israel/Palestine.
Michael Brown was shot and killed in Ferguson.
Robin Williams committed suicide.
One of my friends died of cancer.
Friends are struggling with all kinds of things: relationships, health, work, etc.
Countless others: strangers, friends, enemies and allies around the world and around the corner face the end of life in ways that most will never know.
Death in one form or another surrounds us every day.
And while I do believe in the hope that comes with each new breath in the morning and the promises that God has offered even after death, this is not a post about “Oh, suck it up, I’ll be okay tomorrow.” In fact, I think we have to get better about sitting with death in a social media world. Sure, sometimes I need to be reminded that hope is a powerful force in the world, but sometimes, I also need to also linger a bit longer in the crap pile that is death, helplessness and heartache.
The velocity with which social media allows us to jump from tragedy to tragedy combined with the public ways in which our insensitivities and lack of social nuance are magnified, allows us to gloss over the fact that with every death – EVERY DEATH – there is grief, sadness, and loss. Because of the momentum and volume with which information is delivered, we too often and too easily rank and give import to some human tragedy over another. We bean-count death and our social media influence. Social media gives us amazing connections for healing and support, but it’s important for us to make sure that we do use it to jump too quickly from one human tragedy to another. In all of our actions, we must resist the urge to rank tragedy, for at the table of the grieving, sadness is sadness, suffering is suffering and death is death.
An example of this for me as been with the death of Robin Williams. William’s suicide and documented struggled with mental health issues has brought to the forefront powerful conversations about mental health, depression, and suicide. Being close to these issues in my own communities, I have been uplifted by so many profound and thoughtful words and actions that have been offered to the world.
That said, I was struck by the rapid shift that so many have made from the situation in Israel/Palestine where bombs continue to be launched and in Ferguson, MO where our country’s struggle with racism has been so evident. Yes, Robin Williams was a cultural icon and a human being whose talent and gifts will never be duplicated and his death has presented an opportunity to address depression and suicide. He is certainly worthy of public accolades. I am in no way saying the death of Michael Brown or a child in Palestine should be held in higher regard, only that it seems as if we have done just that with the death of Robin Williams. I am not asking folks to rank one death over another, but I am challenging myself and my community to sit with the death that crosses our eyes a little longer than our newsfeeds would like us to.
Death gives us a chance and a challenge to engage at the deepest and most intimate levels that we can as human beings. In time, death gives us entry into conversations that can transform lives: social injustices can be toppled, cultural fissures healed and new life embodied. In the end, I believe that the ways in which we approach death: the causes, the impact and the heartache informs how we embody life: the systems that surround us, the people with whom we live and our hope for a better tomorrow.
So . . . even as I go about my life, enjoying the final days of summer with my family and communities, I will strive to sit with the many deaths that cross my newsfeeds. For with each death, there is a family, a friend and a community that will be forever changed and they deserve some time. And in respect for the dead, in honor for their communities and with the hope that may be known in the future, I hope you will do the same.