As much as I avoid TV and radio news, I still read the news on the Internet daily and stay abreast of local and global happenings. On that note, this last week has been a roller-coaster of emotions, with bombings in London, children used as shields and killed by the LAPD, increases in aid to African nations with a promise of debt relief, and the continuing "War on Terror" that the public is force-fed 24/7 by the American media-at-large. It's overwhelming, and I think to myself that if I was one of those middle-Americans who watches Fox News every day and soak in all of that sensationalism and jingoistic self-flagellation spiced with blind patriotism, I'd be ready to drown myself in my neighbor's pool, or at least sink into a summertime gin-soaked stupor. Keeping up on the news is like wearing a hair-shirt in the summer heat: you want to know, you care to know, but it hurts like hell and gets under your collar in the worst way.
Staying sane in these times of universal violence, deceit and corruption is a full-time job for the post-modern world citizen. If we are lucky enough to know where our next meal is coming from and are not living purely in survival mode (as so many are forced to do), then we have time and energy to focus our gaze beyond our own individual plight. When one does this, the wide world just appears to teem with suffering and pain.
Making sense of the existence of such pain is a life's work for me, and my attempts at alleviating a very miniscule corner of that painful world is about all I currently feel capable of. I give thanks that there are people out there who live life in a large way, wielding enormous impact in the world by using their skills and expansive personalities to wage war on suffering and effect the lives of thousands, perhaps millions. For every Bono, Mother Teresa, Jimmy Carter and Peace Pilgrim walking the Earth, there are thousands of us "little people" who do our best out here in the trenches of society. I myself am a trench dweller and am personally comfortable with that role. At times it feels so desperate, so ineffectual, but I know that my own small efforts are part of a larger wave of compassion washing through some of those trenches on a daily basis.
A huge thank you to all of you trench-dwellers out there. For those of you who wonder what it's like, feel free to drop in. There are plenty of opportunities for participation. It may not always be pretty, but there are great rewards when one genuinely attempts to alleviate the pain of another. Volunteer for a soup kitchen, be a Big Brother or Sister, drive people with cancer to their medical appointments. There are so many ways to do a small act, the effects of which ripple outward in waves of compassion, including Buddhist practices of simply breathing in the pain of the world and exhaling compassion, all in the comfort of your own home. Take a moment and partake of such a practice, and you contribute more than you may ever know.
As always, may all beings be free from suffering. Regardless of how bad the news may seem, there is always room for healing and redemption. Personally, that thought helps me to get out of bed in the morning. How about you?