Tag: Suffering

I want to hurt (more) with Boston…

Thoughts on suffering and perspective.

In the below paragraphs it’s my desire to make one thing clear, I’m personally trying to digest Boston.  I’m by no means trying to establish a moral high ground, or morality at all.  I’m trying to not speak in broad terms, also. I also realize the timing of this post and the possible perceived audacity.  However, this post was written with the humblest of intentions despite the fact that I’m sure this will rub someone the wrong way.  I apologize in advance, if possible, for that.

By no means is this meant to diminish those who deal with pain and suffering in varied ways or those who have hurt so much that they can’t take one more thing.  I’m not pointing fingers and I’m by no means trying to shift focus away from Boston where no one should deny that real suffering is taking place.  Real lives are forever changed there in horrific ways .  People in Boston, like people in Syria, Iraq, and Afganistan are suffering in ways that are universal and their suffering should not be undermined.

As a storyteller, and a photographer who finds myself all over the world quite often, I desperately want to gain perspective where perspective is to be had.  A softer heart towards suffering is my goal here.  I think I’ve failed to see and empathize with suffering because I’ve failed to be touched by those who suffer.  There are people in the world who, by all means, suffer unspeakable situations every day.  Some of those people are in Boston right now.

If I can’t look at Boston and hurt with them, how can I personally establish a grounds for empathy and care for suffering around the world?  

I hurt for Boston as well as I can.  I want to understand their pain, suffering, and dismay as much as possible.  As odd and masochistic as it sounds, I’m scared to turn away and allow my heart to harden and forget.

I’ve been wrestling with these thoughts since the news in Boston broke:

Am I numb to compassion because I’m ignorant of suffering?  How do I suffer and hurt with those who I don’t have a direct connection to?  Does suffering give us greater capacity to empathize with those who hurt?

The bottom line is that the acts of terror, and subsequent death, in Boston are all horrible.  By all account’s it’s been a horrible week for America.  Boston’s suffering cannot be minimized nor sufficiently equated with the suffering around the world.  Any comparisons done of humanities suffering, in and of itself, should only conclude with equality.  Suffering is equal opportunity.

I’ve watched people react to the news differently. Some people turn the other way and ignore it.  Already moving on.  I tweeted things on Monday that were superfluous and lacked the proper tact of such a weighty situation.  I watched some react in anger. Some simply don’t know how to react.  That’s understandable.  I don’t really either.  Most don’t.

But it seems like I’m struggling to let it really sink in.

I’ve heard people on the radio say, verbatim, “Thank God it wasn’t close to home.”  I’m uncomfortable with that thought because I don’t want my capacity for empathy to be based on distance.  That’s little confort for those who are in Boston.  It’s always close to someone’s home.  But conversely I am glad that it wasn’t in my neighborhood and that my wife and child are both safe.  Something many families in Boston cannot say.

I’ve heard people say, “It’s been a horrible week. Let’s be happy. Here’s how…”  Immediately I’m tempted to bury myself in one of a million readily available distractions.  It’s easy.  Let others deal with it.  I can let it not affect me if I want.

But there’s this.  I don’t want to move on.  Optional escape undermines the weight of suffering. I want to push into the suffering of those in Boston. I want to weep with them and let it hurt.  I want to let the fact that three people died and three families are irreversibly changed sink in deeper and deeper.  I know for a fact that I personally need to face suffering in order to deal with it better, empathize with it better, love those who are suffering better, and ultimately act against it around the world better.

The above scene in Syria is an astonishing, humbling, and fantastically touching example of what I believe empathy to be.  No one would deny that these men know what suffering and death look like, and that’s why I believe them.  Syria and Boston are by no means congruent situations, but suffering is suffering and hurt is real despite location and socioeconomic divides.  These men (boys really) have hit the nail on the head for me and inspired me to write these words much sooner than I thought I’d be able to.

All in all, I’m encouraged to make the time to hurt with you, Boston.  God Bless.

The Faces of Relief

A photographers reaction to disaster

Before I jump into this post, I would encourage you to do what you can for the suffering in Yushu.  The quakes there left close to 100,000 people homeless.  The very little that they once had is now gone.  For more information or for how to give directly to those providing relief, please visit Yushu Earthquake Relief.

The last three weeks have undoubtedly been the hardest three weeks of my life.

On April 14th at 7am my wife woke me up with the news that there had been a series of powerful earthquakes in and around Yushu, a town 500+ miles southwest of where we live and work.  An earthquake in this area is significant.  Not only was my Plateau Photo Tours partner living in Yushu at the time, but most of our friends, co-workers, and employees are from this area – not to mention we had two Lumen Dei tours with David duChemin and Matt Brandon planned to this area this summer.

Instead of preparing for Lumen Dei trips, I found myself back at our NGO’s office coordinating medical supplies and teams to enter into the earthquake area as well as utilizing my skills in a past life as a web designer.  My camera was no where in site for good reasons:  1.) 6’5″ bearded foreign photographers were not allowed into the quake area and 2.) there was no way I would be able to photograph something so personal for quite a while.

As a photography working closely for and with NGO’s as well as coordinating tour’s to the plateau, I very well know the power of an image to raise awareness for a cause – but this is China.  In this part of the world you can’t just show up and expect the red carpet treatment.  In fact, you can’t just show up and expect to be allowed to even participate in relief work.  You have to have permission for three different levels of government, signed and stamped letters to pass checkpoints, verbal governmental approval while en-route to the quake zone, etc. (Luckily I work for the ONLY foreign NGO invited into the quake area by the provincial government to participate in medical relief work.)

Nonetheless, as a photographer, how do you respond to something like this?

Within the first 5 hours after the earthquake, my ideas of what a hero looked like started to change drastically.  I, with no small amount of difficulty, saw pictures on the news of destroyed restaurants where I had enjoyed butter tea with close friends less than two months earlier.  I saw pictures on the internet of my friends homes in ruin (literally).  I saw a place that I have covered photographically in one form or another for almost 8 years in absolute ruin.

To make a very long story short** – I decided to do a photo series of those around me doing direct relief work – my new heros.  These are people who spent the first 72 hours after the quake wide awake, people who travelled 600+ miles over 16,000+ foot passes in order to provide medical relief to those in need.  These are people who saw patient after patient, sent truck after truck, or spent hours on the phone all for continued success of the relief work in Yushu.  These are people who have put life on hold for the last two weeks and have slept far too little – just to provide what relief that can to the suffering in Yushu.

These are heros.  These are the Faces of Relief.  Read more after the jump

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