20 Minutes on Facebook

20 Minutes on Facebook May 2, 2014

After dinner, I sit down to answer email and then scroll through Facebook.

In my news feed are three or four different mentions of the Nigerian girls who were kidnapped by a militant Islamist group and apparently forcefully married off. All of the posts ask why we don’t care about the Nigerian girls.

There are a few of the usual reminders to be fully present to our lives and those we love, and to be especially wary of the seduction of social media, the way it disconnects.

It occurs to me that if I weren’t connected to all these people online, then I truly wouldn’t care about the Nigerian girls because I wouldn’t know about them. As it is, I am horrified and stricken but can’t do a damn thing.

Which is better? Not knowing at all, the way that a Connecticut housewife living 100 years ago would be oblivious to the horrors unfolding on a continent across the ocean, wholly caught up in whatever drudgery or joy or tangled mess of both that was her life? Or knowing what happened in Nigeria two weeks ago, imagining it in excruciating detail as if it were me, or my own teenaged daughter, marched off into the forest to be wedded to thugs? Which is better?

I don’t know.

Also as usual, there are a few pointed posts about racism and ableism and various other ways that we oppress and devalue one another, right here in the good old U.S. of A.

There is another tribute—the second or third I’ve seen this week—to a man I didn’t know but who was beloved by many friends and colleagues. He was a white man, highly educated, gainfully employed, healthy until an aggressive cancer took his life, and thus the holder of all kinds of innate privileges that we name when we speak of all of those –isms. In the tributes I’ve seen, of course, that he held certain privileges in our culture wasn’t at all important. What was important was that he was a good man, a learned man, a wise man, a kind man, a man of God.

It occurs to me that nothing is simple—no matter how pithy or clever or heartfelt our words about it.  In forums like Facebook, we speak as if all sorts of things, all the  –isms and how to be present to our families and connected-but-not-too-much and our reaction to injustices occurring half a world away, are simple.

I don’t know what to do now.

I sign a White House petition urging our government to help the Nigerian government find those girls.

Find them goddammit. Find them.

I scroll through a few Throwback Thursday photos, mostly of friends’ families when their now-teenaged kids were babies.

Will it ever stop hurting how they grow up and leave us behind, deluded into thinking that we’re still the “young” parents?

My joints ache, as they nearly always do at the end of the day. I’m considering putting away the computer, going up for a hot bath.

One of the kids gives a cry of dismay from the other room. The dog threw up—twice. I go in to see to the clean up, and find the dog peeing on the new carpet. She has been housebroken for two years.

What the heck?

I send her outside, wonder if she’s not feeling well.

That’s a new carpet. Why couldn’t she have had a pee accident two weeks ago, when we still had the old carpet?

I blot up the mess, get out the vacuum. I push the vacuum back and forth, thinking of those Nigerian girls.

Lord, have mercy.

Christ, have mercy.

Lord, have mercy.

I ask God, right now, if there is a girl thinking of escape, help her escape. If there is a boy who doesn’t really want to take a kidnapped girl as his wife, who has a sense that what he is doing is wrong, give him the courage not to do it. I ask God to send people into the forest, now, and lead them to the girls, to bring them home.

I get out the hose attachment to the vacuum, suck up the dog hair that has accumulated around the edges. I hear the kids upstairs, laughing, running through the hallway. I turn off the vacuum for a minute to listen. Sounds like they’re getting ready for bed, doing what they are supposed to do. I turn the vacuum back on.

Lord, have mercy.

Christ, have mercy.

Lord, have mercy.

Praying feels silly. Lame. Utterly, absolutely stupid.

But I don’t know what else to do. I believe in a God who can do all things, for whom nothing is impossible.

At least I say I do.

Nothing is simple.

Except maybe love.

(Not even love?)

So that’s what I try to do.

I try to love my house, the dog, my kids. To say nice things about good people when they die, or preferably before that. To try hard not to succumb to any of the –isms, and to confess when I do. To ask, again and again and again, for God to have mercy on the Nigerian girls.  And so many others. None of it feels like enough.

I let the dog back inside, give her a pat even though I’m still kind of pissed about the carpet. I put away the vacuum, go upstairs to tuck my kids in and take that bath.

Lord, have mercy.

Christ, have mercy.

Lord, have mercy.

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  • Laura

    Ellen, your words describing your prayer for the Nigerian girls encouraged me that, indeed, even in our helplessness, there is something we can do. Thank you.

  • michaboyett

    I love this Ellen. Such a picture of the strangeness and beauty of the amazingly connected world we live in…and how, despite our technology, we’re still stuck in our bodies in one place. In our ordinary lives. It’s something we’re all trying to make sense of, I think.

  • Pam Mathews

    I think it has to be enough to read, worry, and say a prayer. Humans are still located in a time and place and most of us have limited circles of influence or control (that’s from one of those 80s or 90s self-help books!) At best, we can only make a significant impact in a handful of areas — like you are doing around disability and bioethics. As a side note: I do find that when I don’t go online and read about everything from bad news to opinions I just can’t stomach, I have a much better mental state of mind. But it seems like a cop-out not to be aware and informed.

  • I love this, Ellen.
    Such a beautiful walk through 20 minutes on Facebook. Often, I don’t know how to respond either.
    Thank you for writing this. I found it to be relatable.