It was summer 2017 and my cousin and I was hiding out from the oppressive New York City heat in the air-conditioned lounge of the newly opened One Brooklyn Bridge Hotel. The place was brand new; a mostly undiscovered hidden gem at the edge of Brooklyn Bridge Park. The lounge had a living wall creeping with ivy and greens, and furniture made of cork and wicker. It was the height of hipster.
We sat there, enjoying the cool, dark air while sipping locally distilled gin and tonic. And then, after about ten minutes, my straw began to disintegrate into a sodden mess of soggy cardboard. I was confused. It was the first biodegradable straw I had ever encountered. But as it would turn out, not the last.
As cliché as it sounds, the world has come an incredibly long way from that hot summer day in the city just a few years ago. For one thing, the lounge of that hotel looks entirely different now and is often packed to the gills with wealthy yuppies. I stopped going there a long time ago. But a lot of other things have changed as well. The use of compostable straws, and other once plastic products, abound. Green energy sources have grown exponentially. A culture of Earth-conscious behavior is steadily gaining popularity. And this is good. Mostly. Still, it seems that in some ways the incremental growth we have achieved has come at a cost, at least for me. But I’m beginning to see it in my friends and the people around me as well.
Awareness is an amazing tool to begin righting a wrong, one millennials have used to great effect. Over the last few years, the issues our planet and society have been facing have risen to the top and are front and center on all social and media platforms. People are using their voice and their influence to make sure the invisible issues are being spoken about and marginalized communities are being represented. So we see it, every day, front and center. The problems we can no longer ignore, or feign ignorance of, they are in our face all day, every day.
Turtles are suffocating. The Amazon is burning; Australia is on fire. Children are being trafficked by drug cartels for all number of horrific uses. The glaciers are melting. Waste in all forms is polluting our planet. The ocean is heating up. Children in Africa have no clean water. Children in Flint have no clean water. Mental health care is almost inaccessible in the U.S. Addiction is stealing our loved ones. The cost of health care is literally killing people. Legal drugs are killing us. Anti-Semitism is on the rise. Radical terrorism and white supremacy are on the rise. Racism lives and breathes as boldly as it ever has. Animal abuse is rampant. Lions are being tortured in Sudan. Human beings are being tortured by civil governments. Civil rights activists are being detained and held captive. Guns are killing everyone. Children live in poverty. Homelessness skyrockets along with the cost of rent. And those are just today’s headlines.
We’re constantly sending our prayers. Never forgetting. Marching and protesting and marching again until our feet are numb and our throats are hoarse. Every day a different headline and yet, every day the headlines are the same. How can we even hope to make a dent in the destruction around us? It’s exhausting. It’s discouraging. It’s terrifying. I’m tired and I’m overwhelmed.
So what do we do when it feels impossible to show up for every tragedy? Because we are not humanly capable. Compassion fatigue is real. And we are feeling it so strongly. Inundated with thousands of worthy causes and wracked with guilt when we cannot do them all justice. And then finding out that those great organizations are exploiting their issue, or stealing the money, or they’re just corporations trying to make a buck off of someone else’s misfortune. So much shadiness, so much jadedness.
We become numb. Because the heart can only hold so much pain and fear and disappointment. We become angry. Because anger is the emotion that masks the hurt and the sadness. We become despondent. Because the problems are just too big for us to fix alone.
So what do we do when we cannot show up for every tragedy? I don’t know. All I know is that we can’t. But we shouldn’t have to. Not because we don’t have a responsibility to our world. But because one human cannot save the world on their own. Even in the movies, the heroes have allies. Each one using their own unique powers to fight their part of the battle. We see ourselves as being alone in our fight, but we’re not.
So what do we do when we cannot show up for every tragedy? We choose the one we can show up for. And we show up. We show up hard. We show up with everything we have. We show up for that one thing. And then we trust. We trust in one another. We trust that others will choose their fight and that they will show up to their fight with all that they have to offer. And we will support one another in our fight. Not by being in all the places all the time. But by being in our places at the right times. One cause does not outshine another. One fight does not deserve more soldiers. We work together, not by doing everything, but by doing our one job to the best of our ability. And knowing that our friends, our families, our communities are doing their jobs as well. We love together. We win together. We rejoice together.
We cannot show up to every tragedy. We cannot solve every problem on our own. We do not have to. We just have to show up. One soggy straw at a time.