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Surviving the news

19 September 2014

"IT'S hard to watch the news these days," a man said to me last week. "There's so much suffering. I don't know what to do with all the pain." So what do we do with the news?

There has been much to be aghast about this summer: some relentlessly appalling news cycles. We are not aghast about Syria any more, because the cameras have moved on. Instead, we have been busy exhausting our "aghast" muscles with stories from Gaza, Iraq, Rotherham, Sierra Leone, or Calais. By the time you read this, there will be new venues.

Although, in a way, that is the good news. Of more concern to me is the news that I am not hearing: the news that does not make it into the public domain because of cover-up and fear: the abused child's cry that will never be heard; the tortured prisoner unknown in the dark; the routine domestic violence behind closed doors; the lingering injustice of a Hillsborough-type police cover-up. The news is not good, but at least it's public.

So what to do with the news we know, and the news we don't? Some feel guilty that they are not helping out in Gaza, although they know they would not be much use amid the bombs. The disturbance in others leads them to emote and denounce in prophetic outrage - or at least to retweet another's denouncing tweet. Others still feel "Why not me?" They experience a mild version of what is felt by those who return from war, guilty that they have survived and their friends have not.

We are asked to stay open to the world; but the reality is that we also need to stay closed. For if we felt each awfulness - large and small - taking place at this moment, it would be difficult to function. Would we ever enjoy a meal out, or our football team's gaining three valuable away points? The poor are always with us - but we're still allowed to laugh.

Ultimately, we can only live the day and the people in front of us. This may include a letter of protest, or some money to charity. Or we may light a candle and sit quietly for five minutes in solidarity. But, mainly, it is the graceful living of our present experience. We could go on about Gaza, and how bad things are there, or we could be kind to those who cross our path, which might be more challenging.

The man who spoke to me about the news is a teacher, who daily has 30 children in his care. There are few more inspiring or challenging tasks than that. So we won't waste time with misplaced guilt or second-hand hysteria: we'll allow it all through us. It may be blinding us to the needs, heroism, and delights of the day before us. And it would be a shame to miss all that.

Twitter: @simonparke

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