I am newly aware of this because I just found out that two old friends of mine are about to be posted at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Suddenly I can't turn anything off. I listen more. But who was I to flip that power button when the daughters and sons of mothers all around me (and I do mean all around me -- we have a lot of military people in North Carolina) -- are suffering and dying every day? Their mothers watch and weep, their fathers watch and weep, their children watch and weep.
To be fair: I turn off far less when there is someone speaking directly from Iraq --or recently returned, or a relative of someone who is there-- and much more when the speakers are politicians and policy makers who discuss what to do. But again: as a citizen, who am I to tune out? This is my country, my government at work. What right do I have to turn away? Not only is there blood on my hands; there is policy responsibility in my hands too. And the great enemy is the demonic despair.
Throwing up our hands. Abandoning ourselves to helplessness, instead of daring the hard work of hope. There is a form of sin.
Some of this turn-off reflex, I rationalize, is because I have to tune out a lot of things this summer if I'm to get any writing done. It's my first such available time in some years and it is fast disappearing. And it's legit. We all have to filter out stimuli. Those of us who are in caregiving professions -- professional ministry, teaching, medicine, therapies of various kinds, nursing -- generally err on the side of "letting it in" and have to keep reminding ourselves that it really is all right, not selfish, to rest, to create art, to empty the mind, to take time off. Also: in order to create it is necessary to isolate oneself, even to cut off conversation. This is something people who don't write or compose or paint don't understand. (And people experience this in different ways; for instance, I find telephone conversations, or any talk for that matter, much more disruptive and intrusive than e-mail or writing or reading. I have friends who are exactly the opposite. It's a matter of brain wiring.)
Still, it's a fine line, and there is a war on.