I wonder sometimes how much the human spirit can handle.

I'm thinking this week about a couple of situations which seem so overwhelming the first reaction is to set them aside, ignore their reality.

The first is a local situation, but a national--even international--story. It's the Townsend story. One month ago I wrote about the death from cancer of international fiddler Graham Townsend. Through the words of Graham's son, Gray, Advance readers caught a glimpse of a remarkable man with appreciated skill whose life ended far too early.

Gray was so positive in our interview about his father's impact on the world of music. He spoke also of his mother Eleanor who started her career as a concert violinist, met her husband and joined his interest in fiddling, winning recognition alongside him.

The Townsend children grew up in music circles and as a grieving family joined together at Christmas this year. On New Years Eve day, Eleanor Townsend and her son Gray escaped their burning house, only to discover that Eleanor's five year old grand-daughter, Gray's niece, was still inside. Eleanor died in her attempt to save the little girl. This tragedy occurred just 28 days after Graham's death, and two weeks after Eleanor's own father passed away. And in 28 days Catherine Monti lost her father, grandfather, mother, and little daughter.

And so, to Gray Townsend and his sister, Catherine Monti, how do we let them know how deeply we feel? We live in a world where terror anchors our nightly news, frequently more horrible than on our movie screens. We become de-sensitized to sorrow and when it bites this deeply into people we live near, it almost seems like too much, too much. And so, we turn.

Only 100 kilometres south of here, in the cold of a Tuesday night, police arrested a woman for shoplifting. Hours and hours later, the woman's seven year old child walked into a nearby store for help. He'd spent the night in a car because police didn't know he was there. When the whole story sorted itself out, the woman's other three children, ages 3, 4, and 8 had been left alone all night in the wake of her arrest.

The woman's court date was set for Thursday morning.

Again, it's too much. How horrible that this family is living this way. I reach out my heart and hope that our "system" does the same, that the "hands of justice" examine the socio-economic challenges this "criminal" is experiencing that her children are at risk in our culture.

We want to turn from these stories, in our inability to look head on at hurt. But, I think what we need to do is heal ourselves by becoming aware. We need to ask our media to tell the Toronto woman's story with compassion, and objectivity, with depth and reason. It's unfair to blast us with this agony and not complete a picture that has so many holes in it.

I know this is a departure from the positivity that usually is found here. But, this week I found myself thinking about these families, and wondering how to reach out to them with any kind of meaning.

I thought you might be feeling the same way, too.

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