It was a distressing headline, because that's what headlines are supposed to be - distressing or shocking so you'll read the story. It appeared in my feed as "trending" and something I might be interested in. Apparently, I was interested. I clicked on the damn thing.
Moments before, I was telling the world about a friend's new cafe. It had just opened after years of hard work and we finally got the chance to try it today. I was happily typing about Nutella-filled doughnuts and panini and coffee. Since this week has been a nonstop train of Refugee Refusal Arguments, Toddlers Sleeping Outdoors Pictures, Racist Idiots In Charge Stories and the Painfully Obvious Absence of My Beautifully Kind Mother-In-Law Since Her Death Last Week, I figured an innocuous food post would do me good.
It did. Until I clicked. Until I wondered, "Well, this sounds horrible. I wonder what happened?" As the story loaded, I yelled at myself, alone in our apartment.
"Do NOT READ that."
And I yelled to the universe as I read it.
"No. NO. NO NO NO."
And I cried and my breathing sped up. My legs wouldn't stop bobbing up and down, to match the pace of my heartbeat.
I know we all do it. We click on horrific things because we're terrified the story inside could happen to us or someone we love. If it is about children, we are instantly more terrified. If it is children hurting children, our terror becomes bewildered sadness. But we read it. Because it happens.
I am not a proponent of burying my head in the sand. I speak out often and write about what I see and the changes I want in my life and the world. I act on them. I speak my mind. However, there is a limit. There is a threshold we reach, collectively. The world reached it when a picture of a small child washed ashore made its way to a newspaper, spurning reactions to the Refugee Crisis that were previously no more than uninterested shrugs of indifference or lack of education on the topic. We reach it with family, with friends, with information. We get full. The threshold for witnessing human suffering and cruelty seems to vary depending on the distance from ourselves. When it is a specific story, one that details someone's hurt and struggle - especially if that person is under two years old - the distance closes. It could be anyone we love. Predispositions and prejudices disappear, as there is nothing a 19 month old could have done to deserve suffering, just as there is nothing two three-year-olds could have done to inflict it with a sense of truly knowing what they had done. But it happened.
And I reached my threshold.
I don't want my head in the sand to the world, as I want to actively participate in making it a better place. However, I also don't want to shatter myself because an algorithm told me I would find something heartbreaking "interesting" for the next five minutes.
So we put our heads, then, in what? A bubble, enabling us to see? In a window high in the air so we can breathe? I don't know.
I post here so infrequently because I doubt my own ability to write well enough to intrigue people to read it on an ongoing basis. But it cannot be about approval anymore. It's about where I have to put my head. I have to put it to thought and writing creatively, or I will forever live at this threshold. That isn't a sustainable place to stay.