The Unbearable Numbness of Being – by Lucy Watson

parisToday my heart hurts. It aches for Paris. For Beirut. For the world.

A lot has been written in the days since the Paris attacks that the world only cares about white lives. That there is only an outpouring of love and support for Paris, but not for Beirut. Or for countless other conflicts.

This is a valid thing to point out, and I think the “West” is collectively guilty of this. When there is a disaster, Australians talk about how many Australians were involved, as if the victims of another nationality matter less. And I’m not saying that race is never a factor. Sometimes, for some people, I’m sure that it is. But I don’t think it is the only one at play.

I cannot speak for everyone else, but I can speak for me. I care about what is happening to people all over the world. I care about the Syrians fleeing their wartorn homeland, for the civilians trapped in ISIS strongholds, for the women kidnapped by Boko Haram, for the victims of bombings in far too many cities. I care about the people detained on Manus Island and Nauru for no greater crime than fleeing these very conflicts.

The truth is there is so much hurt, strife and violence and loss in the world, that if you bled everytime you read the news, you would have no blood left to carry on living. So you build a wall around your heart. You build a wall so you can watch the news without crying. So you can go about your day, without your heart breaking.

And so you watch the Middle East tear itself apart, and yes it hurts, but you can do nothing. It is so confusing, and so complex that all you can do is hope that world leaders don’t make it worse than it already is.

And you watch Americans shoot one another, in cold blood, for no real reason, and do nothing to change the laws, or to take the guns out of the hands of madmen. And you know there is nothing you can do.

And you watch Ebola kills thousands of people in Africa, and you praise those who go to help, and you curse governments for not doing more, or not moving fast enough. But you can do nothing more.

And you read about one woman a week being killed by her partner, and you speak out, and share articles about domestic violence, and you hope that someone is listening. But you don’t cry, because your impotency has made you numb.

You have built a wall, not because you don’t care. But because you do. And because you read about these things more frequently, you become more practised at shutting them out. At distancing yourself emotionally.

And then something happens. Something that breaks down your wall. Jill Meagher is taken from the very streets you walk down. A wave sweeps away hundreds of thousands of people in a minute. The body of a three year old boy washes up on a beach. A hundred people are gunned down at a gig, just like one you have been to countless times.

I honestly don’t think I am more affected by these events because the victims were white – most of the Tsunami victims were not and there was a huge outpouring of support for them. As there was for the Nepalese earthquakes. I am more affected because for some reason something resonates, something breaks through, and I am suddenly in their shoes. I can hear the gunshots. I can smell the fear. Because in that instant I can see myself and my loved ones there, in that moment. And I am no longer numb.

I care about all the horrible pain and suffering in the world. I wish for the world to be a better place. But we build a wall so we can survive. I don’t think we select what breaks down that wall. I think it is just the thing that makes the horror visceral for us. Makes it real.

When I read about what happened at the Bataclan, I wept. I imagined being there with the man I love. I imagined watching him die. And I choked on heavy tears. I don’t think that means that I don’t care about Syrian refugees, or the victims of the Beirut bombings. I do. But for one awful moment, I saw myself losing the person I love in the most horrible way. And in a way, it makes all the loss, from all around the world more real too.

Today I am not numb. Today my heart hurts. It bleeds for Paris. It bleeds for the world.

  1. November 16, 2015

    This is very similar to a poem an artist friend of mine posted that I reposted.

    Both of you are quite sucinct is your repsonses that this is problem of the selective attitude of the West in both media, politics and culture.

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