I’m enthralled with a new book lately, The International Bank of Bob: Connecting Our Worlds One $25 Kiva Loan at a Time. It’s funny and engaging (there’s an ongoing bit about “poop coffee” — a real thing, by the way — that alone might get some people (Neal, ahem) interested) while remaining so terribly meaningful and sometimes heart-wrenching.
Right now Bob and I are in Bosnia in this trip around the world, and although I’m a bit familiar with the war and conflict that country saw, it’s newly eye-opening. Reading about Srebrenica, a town where Serb forces killed more than 8,000 Muslim Bosnians, has a lot more meaning to me now as a small town resident. That type of massacre would be the equivalent of murdering every single resident of all the neighboring towns in our Mountain Communities . . . in the course of 9 days. It’s still unfathomable, but it gives me a clearer perspective of what that would look like. And that’s just one of many genocidal massacres from the war.
One young woman Bob meets, Ajla, who was just 9 when the war started, described the moment that she and her brother thought their parents had been killed by a shell explosion (thankfully, they had not been): “My brother and I just looked at each other. The strange thing is, there was no emotion. We just started talking about who would do what: I can cook, you can go out and find work, we can ask my uncle for help . . . ” Bob mentions several times that Ajla seems to come back to the lack of emotions, numbness, overload, being puzzled at it even years later.
Although my experiences in my little town are in no way comparable, I think Ajla was getting at something of the same thing I was trying to express back in April about all the moments that I couldn’t feel. Since that time several traumatic events happened in our town, some of which were to children I was working with. I did cry the day I heard that particular piece of news, A LOT, but in the intervening months I’ve felt increasingly emotionally distant. I was still going through the motions of helping clients in all the same ways, but I’ve been unable (unwilling?) to access the same level of emotion for the challenges they’re facing. In a tearful discussion on my friend Kristine’s couch in June, I finally articulated it this way: It’s like I can either feel deep empathy and emotion while being confronted with people at a distance — like children starving in Africa — or I can feel little emotion while talking with a suffering child right in front of me. It’s felt like after many months of working in social services, I’m less humane and compassionate than I was before. And yet, I’ve certainly done more good for other humans.
What does that say about my strengths, weaknesses, ultimate capacity? What does it mean for my prospects as a foster mother? Just a few little things I’m ruminating on over here . . .