Last night, my ex-husband called to tell me that the Ebola virus is in our city and that it came through the airport that employs him.
He regularly interacts with African nationals, so this news hit extremely close to home. My first response was, “Oh God, what if my child has been exposed?”
This thought, like the countless other times I’ve thought it with a million different threats, quickly led into a cycle of increasingly sensational thoughts. “What if my child gets it? What if my child dies? What if my child has to live without a mother if I’ve been exposed?”
And then, “What can I put on social media to declare what I’m really thinking — that this is all about me and my residence in Dallas?”
Wow. It’s not. If the Centers for Disease Control is right, then I have nothing to worry about even though the deadly virus is in my city. But here’s what we should be worrying about: As of Sept. 23 of this year, there were nearly 7,000 cases of Ebola virus in Africa, with over 3,000 deaths. Some experts project that 1.4 million Africans will die from Ebola in the next six months. They don’t have the medical equipment and the community health mechanisms to stop the disease in its tracks like we do here in Dallas. My worst fears about Ebola won’t be realized, but 7,000 families have already realized their worst nightmares, and those numbers are soon to grow exponentially.
I don’t know what the answer is. It’s human nature to make all crises an exercise in self-absorption, and I’m not sure we can do anything about that. But whatever it is — whether it’s reports of the Ebola virus in America or a kidnapping in a community or a car crash that kills local teenagers — parents need to reject the impulse to make breaking news all about their personal worries. There are real people who are suffering already, and it cheapens their grief to steal it and turn it into self-absorption.
My penance? I plan to donate at least a dollar every time I choose sensationalism and self-absorption over genuine, meaningful and others-centered concern.