Watching the sand crabs at the beach, I sometimes think I understand exactly how they must feel. They creep tentatively out of their holes in the sand, their big bug-eyes darting this way and that, looking for danger in the world. They do their work hurriedly, rushing back into their holes at the first sign of menacing humans who step threateningly close.
Held at gunpoint at the age of five, I know what it is to feel vulnerable. When I tell my friends in the Maryland suburbs about my early childhood, the stories sometimes leave them speechless, unable to comprehend being so close to such danger.
But as large as those scenes loom in my memory, they don’t frighten me nearly so much as the reports of random violence that fill the news on any given day. When I talk with the many teenagers and young adults I know, I’m concerned about the long-term effects of a 24-hour news cycle that plays and replays scenes of violence. And in the Washington area, where we hear endless reports of citizens who are arming themselves because they distrust our government, the possibilities for tragedy are omnipresent and oppressive.
While my exposure to violence as a child was not commonplace, even the most vigilant parent today finds it difficult to protect little ones from learning about evil early in life. Anyone born after CNN became the first 24-hour news network in 1980 has never known anything except news all day, every day. Think about that. The Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. The massacre at Columbine in 1999. The anthrax attacks of 2001. The carnage in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania on 9/11. The Virginia Tech shootings in 2007. The Aurora theater shootings and the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings in 2012.
One need only look at the dates to see that these tragedies are happening with greater frequency and more massive devastation. They are happening on a greater scale than in many war-torn third world countries. Why is this happening in a country that has the world’s greatest share of wealth and creature comforts?
And according to the CDC, the number of people who were prescribed anti-anxiety medications has more than doubled since the mid-1980s. And this statistic does not include prescriptions for anti-depressants or more serious psychotic drugs. Nor does it include the number of people who self-medicate with alcohol or illegal substances.
What can we do to combat the madness and anger in such a world? The problem is complex, and our needs are overwhelming. But it would be a start to have leaders who don’t add to the vitriol and who can work together to tackle the problems that face us. And it would help if the news networks would balance out reports of evil with stories of human kindness.
Yes, it would be safer to mimic that little sand crab, frightened of contact with the world. But then we would miss the beautiful sunrises over the ocean, the play of the waves as they change each day, the feel of a loved one’s hand in our own as our toes make parallel prints in the sand.
In the past two weeks, since one of my best friends lost her husband, I’ve been reminded of what’s best about being human. Hundreds of mourners overflowed the church in honor of a man who devoted his life to helping struggling students that others had forgotten. Close friends and acquaintances lifted up my friend and her son, crying with them, laughing with them, feeding them, holding them. And my friend learned that she was stronger and more gracious than she had any notion she could be. In the tragedy of my friend’s sudden death, I learned yet again that even when we’re surrounded by danger and sorrow, maybe especially when we can’t flee from danger and sorrow, it’s worth coming out of hiding.
So tell me a story of what’s good about our world, about us.