One of my all time favorite rock bands wrote a song called Comfortably Numb in 1979. Now most people think this all about drugs – but here’s the rest of the story.
When Roger Waters, of Pink Floyd, was a little boy, he had a high fever. The feeling he got was kind of a detached reality. As an adult, he got hepatitis and didn’t know it. Pink Floyd had a show to do one night in Philadelphia and the doctor that looked at Roger gave him a sedative to help the pain, thinking it was a stomach disorder. At the show, Roger’s hands were numb “like two toy balloons”. He was unable to focus, but also realized that the fans didn’t care because they were so busy screaming. He called this comfortably numb. He stated once that most of the album “The Wall”, which the song was on, was about alienation between the audience and the band.
I am sitting in my living room watching the devastation that is New Orleans. It is almost surreal to watch. Looting, killing, raping, total destruction of entire cities. Hundreds of thousands of people displaced. Stories of dead bodies floating around, being pushed in a corner left to rot. It doesn’t seem like America. Rescue workers shot at, helicopters shot at, hospitals shot at. It is incredible. Is this really the United States I live in? I want to feel something. I watch the TV. Images flash by, over and over and over. I don’t feel anything. People crying out for food, transportation, water. I don’t feel anything. There has to be something wrong with me. Why don’t I feel anything? I’m watching it, I see it – but I don’t feel. I know I should feel something. I just sit there. Staring at the TV. Comfortably numb. Detached, alienated. Not feeling anything.
OK God. What is wrong with me? It is just so much to process that I can’t? Have I been so bombarded by myown trials that I’m just worn out and don’t have enough feelings left for strangers? Have I become so indifferent to suffering after watching all of the death and destruction in Iraq? There is one clue – deep in the back of my head. In the Marines, we were trained to put our own feelings aside and just do our jobs. It makes fighting a war easier. In the Gulf War, I was scared at times but I didn’t have the luxury to feel scared. I had a job to do and if I or my team were going to make it home, I had to do that job to the best of my ability. I had to detach. Focus on the mission. Maybe that is what is going on. It’s been almost 15 years – but yet it is still with me.
Lord, develop in me a compassion for the suffering of others. Help me feel again. Enlarge my capacity to empathize with those who are suffering. Give me opportunities to engage those who are in need. Stretch me that I may serve you more.