Orlando: When Tragedy Is Greater Than 140 Characters

photo-1460132011327-1bcd44f7ae20It’s called rubbernecking, apparently.

Sitting in my stalled car in the middle lane of I-40 during Nashville rush hour, I couldn’t have cared less what the proper term was, but I certainly felt it.

The drivers behind me, with a gaze piercing my blinking hazard lights and a judgment ringing clear as they slowly moved past, turned their necks to gawk at my situation, one by one by one hundred.

Moments before, I’d been one of them, screaming traffic jam frustrations to the unforgiving radio “Rush Hour Report.” And then, without warning or engine light, I became the holdup.

I can only imagine what kind of things were whispered or yelled in the cars around me:

“I’m so glad that’s not us!”
“Seriously? Doesn’t she know how to fill a gas tank?”
“Ugh! I’m going to be late to dinner again.”
“This is why we don’t buy Jeeps.”
“She looks terrified. Someone should help her.”
“Nashville highways are the worst. I hate living here.”
“We’re going to miss The Bachelor!” (SO MUCH empathy here. Let’s be honest, I’m totally trying to bootleg the rose ceremony on my phone while waiting for the tow truck.)

Thankfully, those comments were sealed behind fastened seatbelts and sealed windows, and the only words I remember from that night were from those there to help me—my roommate, the policemen, the tow truck guy. Everything turned out okay in the end, but I’m afraid this outcome is becoming more and more rare.

Sure, we all mostly still travel along highways tightening our seatbelts behind closed windows, but do we use the same restraints when we click around online?

Social media is a vehicle that fills one of our deepest human longings—to be seen, heard, and connected. We hide behind the safety of instant affirmation and wild anonymity, pressing publish and arranging feeds to ensure our significance. We forget the pain of our followers in an attempt to numb our own wounds.

A few years ago, I was stuck in the middle of a different difficulty—the loss of my brother. It was sudden, shocking, and public, exposing wounds that needed to be seen, heard, and connected.

And so, a few weeks after the accident, I found that my own wounds had the same needs, and I turned, terrified, to the internet. The pile of posts was overwhelming—tributes and headlines, photos and stories, some informed, many not-so, some from friends, many from strangers.

Overall, like my highway rescue, the ones that rose to the top were helpful, but I’m not so sure its authors knew they were in a windows-down, seatbelt-less vehicle. Most of them probably didn’t know I would read it at all. Rubbernecking, apparently.

I don’t tell this story to bring mine back into the spotlight or compare it whatsoever, but I ache for the brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers of the Orlando shooting victims or any other tragic situation in the public eye who will make their return to the internet in their own time.

Let’s ask ourselves, what will they find?
Will it be kind? Will it be true? Will it be necessary?*
Will they feel seen, heard, and connected?
What will rise to the top?

Let’s expose our rubber necks for what they really are—broken hearts.
Friends, it’s okay to talk about your wounds, your fears, your confusion. Grieve in community.
Leave space for others to do so, too.

May social media be an extension of our empathy and a bridge to our unity.
May those affected only feel seen, heard, connected, and may help rise to the top.

Lord, have mercy. May Your grace go before and follow behind our faulty words. Let love be the loudest.

*paraphrased from Socrates

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