Yesterday, a low-flying aircraft dropped a firebomb (napalm? thermite?) on a school playground in northern Syria.
In keeping with the at-a-distance capacities of both Brits and doctors, she detailed what she knew of the event and then, without raising her voice or weeping, she said, "No one cares."
It was like a scream issued in a whisper: No one cares.
The vast heinousness of firebombing a playground (or the demolition of the World Trade Center towers or the Nazi concentration camps or hundreds of other vile and hellish events) beggars the mind, assuming the mind is brought to bear. It is beyond even "beyond" and then, like icing on a cake, "no one cares."
Somewhere within there is a desire or need or impetus to care, but then the vastness of the event couples with the distances involved and, it seems, it's not that I don't care, it's that I simply can't. Were I to care about all the things that deserved caring, I would be paralyzed ... and the toast would get burnt.
Nor is this the case simply for horrific events. Turning down the horror volume and looking around, it seems to me that what is wondrous and marvelous suffers the same fate, although the desire to throw up is not in play. An achievement, a kiss, a smile that can light the darkness ... what a blessing ... and yet ... no one cares.
Of course people do care and are caring. Sometimes such caring bears wonderfully sweet fruits. Sometimes it nourishes cynical and self-centered cruelties. Caring matters. It fertilizes action. Life would be too unutterably bleak, too vastly lonely, too meaningless to mention, too scary beyond measure if no one cared. And so, in one way or another, enormous effort is brought to bear in an attempt to turn back the night and hear the blessed voice of a caring peace.
And yet, lurking in the background like some Cheshire Cat, there is the old conundrum: If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one there to hear it, is there any noise? If I say yes, I am unable to produce evidence, and the same is true if I say no. It is a reasonable, if quirky, question for which I can produce no reasonable or credible answer. There is no emotional or intellectual tool for this gob-stopping event.
Am I wrong or is it true: Everyone is backed against a gob-stopping wall in their lives. It's not always apparent and it's not always grueling, but still it lingers and whispers like a woman doctor with a large nose and a tempered tone: There simply is no way to share experience in ways that are complete and convincing. Any teenager who has attempted to tell a friend about how much in love s/he is has faced this fact: The talk may go on and on, the caring may go on and on, the experience may be more compelling than an orgasm ... but ... no one can know and, by pessimistic extension, no one cares.
But when the clouds of terror or cynicism or abject insistence or sadness abate a little, isn't this a good time to sit down quietly with this inescapable companion? Just quietly, as over a cup of tea? No need for altruistic pamphlets here. Just quietly.
If experience cannot be shared ...
If a tree falls in an unpopulated forest...
If no one cares ...
Then who cares?