On Tragedy, Apathy, and a Year in the Shadows

In addition to its ability to heal, time has the ability to distance, and so naturally, events of the recent past always loom larger than their older predecessors. That being said however, if pain and frustration could grow tall like buildings then no matter how far I go, I can’t seem to escape the shadow of 2016.

Let’s not forget, there have been some amazing things that happened in 2016. Obliterating the world record, India planted 50 million trees in a single day in an effort to combat climate change and improve the air quality of the country. Solar Impulse 2 flew around the entire globe without consuming a single ounce of fuel. The Ice Bucket Challenge funded a breakthrough in ALS research. The Hamilton Mixtape finally came out, Leonardo Dicaprio finally won his Oscar, and the Cubs won the World Series for the first time since 1908! (Anything that brings Bill Murray joy to the point of tears has to be a good thing).

And yet, despite all the good, the Burj-Khalifa-sized shadow that has been 2016 looms as large as ever.

Twitter recently released a list of its top hashtag trends throughout the year (#ThisHappened). Number 9 on the list was #RIP: David Bowie, Prince, Muhammad Ali, Leonard Cohen, Gene Wilder, Elie Wiesel, Phife Dawg, Harper Lee, Alan Rickman… the list sadly goes on. No matter who you are, you lost someone dear this year. And suffice it to say, death’s sickle stretched far beyond the realm of just the famous.


By a certain point in the year, this was the template of our social media feeds and it’s easy to see why:

  • #PrayForBrussels March 22: Three coordinated suicide bombings in Belgium. 32 killed, 300+ injured
  • #PrayForJapan April 15: 7.0 Kumamoto Earthquake. 50+ killed, 3,000 injured
  • #PrayForEcuador April 16: 7.8 Ecuador Earthquake. 673+ killed, 16,600 injured
  • #PrayForOrlando June 12: Deadliest attack in the U.S. since September 11, 2001, and the deadliest incident of violence against LGBT people in U.S. history. 49 killed, 53 injured
  • #PrayForNice July 14: 19-ton cargo truck intentionally drove into crowds on Bastille Day in a terrorist attack. 86 killed, 434 injured
  • #PrayForItaly August 24: 6.2 magnitude earthquake hits Central Italy. 299 killed, 388 injured, 4,500+ homeless
  • #PrayForHaiti October 4: Hurricane Matthew destroys Haiti with Category 4 winds of 145mph. Anywhere from 546 to 1,600 fatalities, 1.4 million people in need of humanitarian aid

Hashtag Not Found

Then of course there are the tragedies which, for whatever reason, don’t get the same hashtag proliferation, but still hurt just the same. The suicide bombing in Lahore, Pakistan on March 27 that killed 75 (including 29 children) and injured over 340 more, who were celebrating Easter Sunday at a park. The multiple horrific bombings in Baghdad, not the least of which were those occurring on May 11, less than a week later on May 17, and again on July 3rd, claiming all together over 500 human lives and injuring many times more. Ankara, Turkey on March 12, Darak, Cameroon on June 14, Mukallah, Yemen AND Istanbul, Turkey both on June 28.  Let’s not forget the wholesale destruction of Syria, the resultant Refugee Crisis, and the genocide currently underway in Aleppo.  And just the other day, I watched 25 of my countrymen in Cairo, my sisters and their children, depart this world while praying in Church, in the most violent way, as 26 pounds of TNT placed there by hate, intolerance, and evil detonated, ripping their lives away from us and tearing the country apart at the same time.

It seems to me that the question needs to be asked: Is tragedy becoming the new norm? And as one question begets the next: What is one man or woman supposed to do in the face of such unflinching darkness?


 (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)

Is tragedy becoming the new norm? I don’t know. It certainly seems to be trending that way. But that’s not what worries me. There were tragedies before 2016, there were tragedies during 2016, and we can be sure that there will be yet more tragedies to come. What frightens me is apathy. What scares me is cynicism. Yes, 2016 was a dark year, but the normalization of tragedy is not nearly as dangerous as the normalization of jaded indifference, calloused inactivity, and negligent insensitivity. As the proverb goes, it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. Instead of the multitude of these tragedies jading us, perhaps we can position ourselves such that they shake us and wake us. The will to act is a gift and a duty, and if some cannot act because that gift has been torn away from them by violence and oppression, why can’t we act on their behalf?

An antidote to indifference

Instead of looking outside of ourselves for change, perhaps we can make this coming year and all the years we’re gifted with after it, the years in which we are the change. Silicon Valley is not the Garden of Eden. Politicians are not saviors. Hashtags will not alter the reality of suffering… but you can. You can all change the world around you not by stopping tragedies but by fighting indifference. In fact, that’s why we’re here. The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Be the change you want to see in the world. Insert whatever other hackneyed platitude you want here and breathe some life into it by your actions. Tragedies will forever be with us, but desensitized indifference cannot be allowed to remain. Action, no matter how small, will forever be the answer to a jaded conscience. I have a guitar, I have a voice, and I have something to say. The Noon Project is my candle, it’s my contribution, it’s my outpouring, it’s my way of retaliation, it’s my way of unmaking violence through song, it’s my way of giving voice to the oppressed through art. It’s me, with all my flaws and shortcomings choosing to step outside the shadow of tragedy so I can reflect the light. Maybe if more of us choose to do likewise, the world will cease to seem so dark a place.

The Noon Project was born when a few like-minded people came together and decided that having empathy and taking action should not stop with a hashtag.  Learn more about who we are, what we’re doing, and why we’re doing it.  This blog is dedicated to my brothers and sisters, the victims of the bombing in Cairo on Sunday. May your memories be eternal.

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