The Medium is the Message

Paul Simon sings, “These are the days of miracle and wonder/ This is the long-distance call/ The way the camera follows us in slo-mo/ The way we look to us all.” Those words evoke the overwhelming amount of information that swirls around us 24/7/365. The endless news cycle, always hungry for new stories, finds all kinds of data and angles. It never stops.

Sometimes the sheer quantity of info comes at us as fast as a fire hose. Those are the times it can feel like way too much to handle. But for all my complaints, I deeply appreciate the access I have to knowledge from all over the world. Stories from Africa and the Far East places that, as a kid, were so far away and so exotic are now at my fingertips.

In these days of miracles and wonder, I can access live music from Mozambique and watch cooking shows from Taiwan. I can participate in a tour of the Louvre as I sit at home. It feels like, in so many ways, my Universe has opened up so much wider than I ever could’ve imagined in my wildest dreams.

I’ve had a cornucopia of very substantial international cultural and intellectual content from which to choose. As a result, my life has been enriched. I feel more connected to my world.

This proximity to so much, this shrinking of distance and erasure of boundaries is sometimes a double-edged sword. Because I don’t get to see only the good stuff. I see floods in California and murder in Memphis, and the aftermath of a terrorist attack in Jerusalem. And now: the unspeakable devastation in Turkey and Syria. As so many of us have done, I’ve watched videos of buildings collapsing, body bags lined up, and drone footage of neighborhoods that look like the set of a post-apocalyptic movie. I’ve heard cries of children and adults alike as they contend with an utterly smashed and disfigured Universe. They are cold, hungry, in shock.

And here I am, comfortably ensconced, watching it all. And it’s a terrible feeling. I am utterly powerless. Is this too much? Am I a voyeur? Should I look at all? The answer is that I must look. I must see the hardships of my fellow human beings. I must feel their pain and their loss. Marshall McLuhan, a founder of media theory, called the world a “global village,” reflecting this truth that we are drawn more closely together by increased exposure to each other.

We are all created in the image of God. This metaphor demands that we open our hearts with empathy and concern. We are powerless to intervene, and that is frustrating. But we can be present in spirit. We can follow the stories and share sorrow. We can speak out loudly for justice and aid. Sometimes that helps, and sometimes it doesn’t.

I can send tzedakah to an organization with access to sites in Syria and Turkey. My research has uncovered a few good and trustworthy charities that fit the bill.

1. The Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) Foundation is a global medical relief organization working on the front lines of crisis relief in Syria, neighboring countries, and beyond to save lives and alleviate suffering. SAMS proudly provides medical care and treatment to every patient in need.

2. Doctors Without Borders In northwest Syria, teams from DWB have been able to work since the early hours to respond to the destruction because they already had a presence in the region.

3. The International Red Cross Across Syria, around 4.5 million people living in hard-to-reach areas continue with limited access to essential life-saving assistance and protection. Almost 400,000 live in areas with little or no access to basic supplies or assistance. There has been growing international concern about the suffering of thousands of people in these areas. The ICRC will concentrate on delivering medical services.

 In this global village where we see appalling suffering and terrible deprivation, doing something – anything! – is better than doing nothing. We are, after all, neighbors on the same small planet.

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