Like many people here in Minnesota, I spent much of last weekend enjoying – and marveling at – our unseasonably warm weather. The most common refrain from everyone was, “This is February? It feels like Spring!” It seemed almost surreal to go out wearing a sweater or light jacket instead of a heavy winter coat. I went on an outing downtown with some friends on Sunday, and they laughed when they came to pick me up and found me sitting outside in a lawn chair, reading, as I waited for them to get there.

What made it feel even more unreal was to be experiencing this beautiful weather at roughly the same time there were deadly rainstorms in California, snowstorms in the northeast, and tornadoes in Texas. I felt a twinge of guilt to be enjoying our warm weather while people in other parts of the country were experiencing such devastation.

I also felt a twinge of guilt realizing that whenever I hear of dangerous conditions – whether from the weather or any other type of disaster – my first thought goes to people I may know in the area. While I am quick to pray for the victims, and to donate to relief efforts whenever anything awful happens on a grand scale, it is the personal connections that my first thoughts go to.

I won’t ever apologize – nor should I – for worrying about the welfare of family and friends, especially those in faraway places who may be in harm’s way. But I’d like to feel that my concern and compassion were equally strong for people I didn’t know, and would likely never meet.

I’m intrigued by a current TV commercial that shows people wearing a virtual reality headset, and obviously having a powerful experience. But we, the audience, are never shown or told what alternate reality they were going through.

Imagine if we could put on a headset and see, hear, and feel what it would be like to be in the middle of a hurricane or tornado. Or to experience homelessness or a disability. To be a stranger in a foreign land. Or to be somewhere where your faith, your looks, or your words were not welcome. I think it would be an eye-opening experience for us all.

Some level of this already exists. I once chaperoned a “Box Night Out,” in which middle-school-aged kids from my church got a sense of what homeless people experience, physically and emotionally. And I’ve taken part in programs where able-bodied individuals had to maneuver winding and uneven surfaces in a wheelchair, or wear earmuffs and gel-covered glasses to get a sense of what blindness or hearing loss was like. Along with the realization that some people can’t simply remove the earmuffs or glasses, or stand up out of the wheelchair, came a new understanding of what other people have to live with.

Today, more than ever, we could all benefit from virtual reality experiences. If we could truly feel and understand what other people are going through, I think it would strengthen us all. And give us what we need to weather any storm.

The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on February 23, 2017.
©Betty Liedtke, 2017

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