I can’t stomach the news anymore.
It makes my head spin. I weep often, especially when stories are about tragedies involving children.
For many years I worked as a daily reporter covering hard news. I often did my job without digesting what hard news actually meant a lot of the time — emotionally impalpable happenings.
Now I know what it means. Truly.
There was a moment recently when I realized what a difference being disconnected made to my peace of mind. I was vacationing with my family in Cuba and hadn’t read or watched the news for a week. My phone was turned off the entire time, which meant I was disconnected from the constant news stream on my social networking channels. It was only when our plane was landing in Toronto that I remembered its existence. During our week away, I dipped my feet in the ocean, swam laps and ran in the sand. I didn't think about my phone for a second.
We enjoyed lazy, carefree days. When our two and-a-half year-old napped, my husband would relax on the patio with a cigar, while I breezily devoured beach reads, eventually drifting off to sleep myself.
Days after our return from Cuba, I rarely checked my phone, swearing to stop the 24 hour news cycle that plagues and haunts me.
But old habits are hard to shake.
Within a couple of weeks I was once again unconsciously checking my phone. I say unconsciously because it is a habitual thing — roll over in bed in the morning, reach for the phone and scroll through emails and updates; idly flip through it again with toast and coffee, check it before leaving the house, just in case.
Stop it! I screamed to myself. Just stop it.
There was a time when the news happened in bite-sized increments. It seemed more manageable to have the morning news and the six o’clock news instead of news by the minute, all day long.
Our brains, or my brain at least, cannot process the excessiveness of information. There is too much sadness, alarm and terror to be constantly bombarded by it.
Recently, I’ve begun to see my Facebook feed in a darker light. Sometimes amid the happy-faced kid snapshots, my account seems like an ongoing obituary (both famous deaths and not).
So, I'm trying again to reduce my media exposure. Instead of reaching for my phone first thing, I leave it alone for an hour or two, except to check the time. Today, I used my phone to send a quick photo to my husband. It was of our son hiding behind a giant picture book, with only his arms popping out of the sides.
“Look, mommy!” he exclaimed.
“I am a book with arms!”
I burst out laughing and snapped a picture.
Sending it, I ignored my emails and my Twitter and Facebook accounts.
Then my dog Maggie and I went for a run. The only thing on my mind out there was how ridiculously frigid it was, and what a terrible idea it was to be running outside. The front of my head ached and I couldn’t feel my legs. We hurried home, and I was just about to post a status update on Facebook warning other outdoor runners to stay inside when a steady stream of links to the same story appeared on my newsfeed.
Soon, I was weeping.
The posts were about a three-year-old boy named Elijah who had wandered out of a North end Toronto apartment building at about 4 a.m.
There was a grainy black-and-white image of Elijah, screen saved from video surveillance in the lobby of the building, looking up at the front door. He appeared to be contemplating whether or not to open it.
The little boy was found six hours later in between houses about 300 metres from the apartment without vital signs. He was in the snow, wearing only a T-shirt, boots and a pull-up diaper. Meanwhile, Environment Canada had issued an extreme cold weather alert in Toronto, with temperatures dropping to -20C early Thursday morning, with a wind chill making it feel like -28.
My heart broke wide open and I stood sobbing in my kitchen. I thought I was going to be sick.
Please, please save him, I said to somebody, nobody, to anybody.
I tried to work but could think of nothing else. People everywhere, parents and non-parents, were imagining the unimaginable, wishing, hoping and praying for this little boy. This is somebody’s baby, and we all know how easily it could be our own. We understand that within seconds, the course of one's life can change. It is impossible to turn off the news, to not search for updates, to stop thinking of that poor child out there all alone in the cold — impossible to not keep begging for good news to happen. Then, just as I saved this post, I received an update.
Hospital efforts to save Elijah were unsuccessful. The little boy has died.