[To listen to an audio version of this blog, please click here: http://bit.ly/2xwSC5J]
As I write this, a dear friend lies in a hospital bed many, many miles away.
He texted me on Saturday. 'I need your help.'
'Of course,' I texted back. 'What can I do?'
I thought it would be to check the English on a paper he was about to publish, or to look over the CV for one of his foreign students.
'I am very ill,' came the reply. 'I need you to phone BUPA for me. My phone will not permit me to phone the UK from here.' ('Here' is five hours ahead of the UK and not a place most of us would consider civilized.)
I could phone and sort out the admin, but once he was in hospital I could do nothing but pray. I could not fly out to be with him; my duty is to my family first. He would be shocked that I had even thought of doing that.
So, I worry. He has no one to be with him, and I worry.
This is one person; a close friend. I reserve the right to grieve over my feelings of helplessness.
It is when we experience this feeling over people we have not met and can never meet, that we run the risk of needlessly damaging our mental health. We feel helpless when we hear of the earthquake in Mexico, the devastation caused by the hurricanes in the Caribbean. It is even worse when we watch the distressing images on TV.
My therapist once pointed out that humans are designed to live in small communities of a few hundred. In that size of village everyone knows everyone else. If Peter up the road breaks his leg, then everyone can rally round. If the river breaks its banks, the whole community is affected. Everyone can grieve together and start rebuilding together. When news comes from the town ten miles away it is emotionally as well as physically distanced.
Today the news from the whole world is immediate. The disasters of strangers invade our living rooms every night.
If we are of a compassionate nature I think we have two choices: to worry and grieve ourselves into sleeplessness and worse, or choose to switch off the TV.
I am not talking about shutting ourselves off from all communication with the outside world. We will still hear about important events, whatever we choose to do. But we can limit our exposure.
It is not being irresponsible to protect ourselves. It is not being callous or selfish. We can still contribute financially to disaster relief if we wish. We can still pray and send positive thoughts.
I believe we are called to act and show compassion to those put before us. My friend 5,550 miles away is not exactly before me, but he is at the other end of a screen. I can text my love and support to him.
In fact, please excuse me; that's what I'm about to do right now.
A Moodscope member.