The privilege to turn off

The remnants of Hurricane Ida decimated the mid-Atlantic last week. Rivers overflowed in the town next door, leaving people stranded on the roofs of their homes and hoods of their cars. I’m told this was somehow worse than Hurricane Sandy, because the water came so fast. On our town’s post-storm waste disposal day, I walked through the neighborhood and saw entire basements’ worth of mildewed debris piled high, house after house. Businesses were destroyed and mementoes lost. At least 27 people died in New Jersey.

Many people had no idea Ida was coming, which I’d find confusing, except I had no idea Ida was coming. See, COVID-19 had just upended our end-of-summer plans, and after some quick rearranging, I secured us a last-minute rental at the Jersey Shore, which the bulk of the storm blew north of before heading east to create those viral subway flooding videos. But not experiencing the storm firsthand was only part of it. There is a general sentiment that the New York Metro Area just didn’t recognize the imminent risk. People were out to dinner when the storm hit. Unlike with Sandy – which shut down city subways and had Bomber Jacket Cuomo on every channel – Ida seemingly went from “they’ll be rain” to a life-or-death situation within hours.

Was it the meteorologists’ fault? Unclear. To be honest, I wasn’t paying attention to anything really. I shut myself off, because I didn’t want to know.

Lately, most news seemed bad. The delta variant has been ravaging the South and impacting more children; Texas passed an oppressive anti-abortion law that the Supreme Court acquiesced on; and a haphazard end to our years in Afghanistan led to yet another humanitarian crisis. People have and will continue to suffer from these unjust circumstances, and as a human being with an empathetic heart, I’ve felt paralyzed by them. I’ve glued myself to their stories and re-shared hollow Instagram infographics in an attempt to say something. And maybe for a moment, I felt as though I had.

But the satisfaction from cheap activism runs dry quickly, like a reverse dopamine hit. And in turn, the weight of bad news pushes on your conscience more, because you – a good person – wishes you could do more. If only your kid wasn’t home for the past 18 months. If only you didn’t have another brief to read. If only, if only, if only. So instead of bearing an unending emotional load, you shut down. You block out the news. All of it. You say some version of, I have my health, my family, what is right before me is great. I need to focus on the good in my life, because everything else is bad, and I can’t handle any more bad.

Sure, this coping mechanism has its merits. I watched more news in 2020 than ever in my life. It was fatiguing – damn near breaking. So when the current affairs turned hopeful earlier this year only to free fall down this doomsday rollercoaster, I felt even less equipped to handle it.

I am a huge believer in self-care being an active, evolving commitment to yourself, so I thought I was protecting myself by shutting out reality for a bit.

Until a mega-storm hit my town, and I didn’t even know about it.

You may ask, why am I writing about this? Why not just bring Our Tiny Rebellions back from summer hiatus and right into the little things that bring us joy?  

Because this week is the start of the Jewish New Year. At its most nondenominational, the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur next week are for reflection. We are advised to look within, be critical of our own shortcomings, make amends with those we may have wronged or disappointed, and ultimately be inscribed into a better, sweeter story to be written this coming year.

I can’t help but reflect upon my choices this summer and ask whether I’m acting in accord with the way I’m feeling. Whether turning a blind eye to what’s hard to look at is an act of self-care or an act of privilege. Truthfully, it’s a privilege of the highest level be able to just turn it off. To disconnect yourself from the bad and all that is unfair. There are too many people whose misfortunes will come at the mercy of more powerful people, of the cards they’ve been dealt, of who and where they are. Turning off their phones won’t matter, because they are living it.  If you are not living it today, consider your fortune and whether turning a blind eye is what you really need or just what is easier. Protect yourself, sure, but don’t look away for convenience’s sake. Because like mother nature, misfortune is not always predictable.

On the heels of this New Year and a symbolic – and literal – washing away of the past, I know I can do better. I can do better than doomscrolling, succumbing to inaction, and burying my head in the sand on things that don’t directly impact me. I can read more, help more, say yes more. Take a new pro bono case, volunteer more, or just offer my hand to a friend more. Admitting you’re not doing your best isn’t a referendum; it’s the first step to doing better.

Please consider the following resources on causes I’ve mentioned above, and donate if you can:

S.B. 8 in Texas:

20 Organizations Fighting the Texas Abortion Ban: New York Magazine compiled a list of national and regional organizations taking various steps to combat the new law and provide support to those on the ground. I really appreciate having this list, because you can find a way to help that resonates with you.

Humanitarian Crisis in Afghanistan:

International Rescue Committee - The IRC provides international support to people whose lives are shattered by conflict. There are 20 outposts around the U.S., and they are actively engaged in saving and supporting refugees in the current crisis.

Women for Afghan Women – WAW is a New York-based organization dedicated to protecting and promoting the rights of disenfranchised Afghan women and girls, both here and in Afghanistan. The organization helps women pursue their political, social, cultural, and economic independence.

Westfield Fun Club – For my hyper-local readers, the town of Westfield has a club that is currently sponsoring local Afghan refugees to ensure they have immediate necessities from food deliveries to school supplies. Check them out on Facebook for updates.

Hurricane Ida:

Storm relief is a fluid situation, as President Biden works through declaring certain regions FEMA disaster zones. Aside from donating to a national organization like the American Red Cross, I’d suggest looking for local opportunities to help your community. Our local town Facebook groups have displayed such amazing generosity, from people giving away free furniture to neighbors showing up to help others rip up their carpets. Lean into your community. The gesture doesn’t need to be grand to be effective.

The little things

Apples are a symbolic fruit of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. We typically dip them in honey to represent the hope for a sweet year ahead. But we also douse them in sugar, layer them in batter, and bake them into round cakes! My Mom-Mom always made this traditional apple cake, which some say you can’t mess up because it contains so much sugar, but trust me, you can. Not this time, though. This time my daughter and I made it just right.