Equating Tragedy

handsI had to wrestle with the darkness the morning I woke up to the news of the tragedy in Boston.  & some of it seemed to come from the inside of me.

The news was terrible. So unexpected, so sudden. A poisoned disruption in the normal flow of the everyday. It reminded me of September 11. It was all over the news. It was all over my heart.

What do you say to death when it comes knocking at your door for your loved ones? Ready or not.

I hurt for the people in Boston. I asked questions on their behalf. I turned myself inside-out to understand the senseless. I sent up prayers for them, like incense coiling all the way up to heaven.

I stationed myself in front of the TV to hear more, to share the sorrow, to feel connected somehow. That is when another bomb struck. This one hit closer to home. this one unravelled me because it hit me square in the chest – that place where I keep my love for all mankind. It exposed my hypocrisy, my favouritism & my double standards. I looked away in shame, the little pride I had left blown to smithereens.

There had been explosions in Iraq. 9 people had been killed. There had been an Earthquake in Iran with 40 people dead. But somehow what was happening in Boston seemed more tragic than these tragedies.

Was it because America is supposed to be the bastion of peace and civilisation where these things shouldn’t happen & the Middle East, on the other hand, is where people blow themselves & each other up? At least that is the picture the media consistently paints for us.

Is it because tragedies in these faraway places like Iraq, Afghanistan & Sudan happen all the time & so we have become accustomed to hearing about them to the point that it does not shock us?

Is it because Americans are more human than those, those Middle Eastern people?

We don’t think so. Of course not. But our actions often betray us. My actions definitely betrayed me.

I switched off the TV. I needed air. I needed to think. I needed to hide away from this confrontation.

Those people intimately involved in these kinds of tragedies need to be focused on their healing, I agree. But those of us who stand somewhat apart ought to be genuine & sincere in how we value human life. how we honour human life.

I’m sure that Iraq mother who lost her baby boy in the blast did nothing to deserve the heart wrenching cruelty of angry men. In the same way those runners did not deserve to lose their limbs & lives. The whole thing is unfair & it does my head in.

I sat quietly & took in long, deep breaths that satisfied my need for air. & with that came the clarity;

The contexts are different but losing a life in a little village in the middle of the Ituri forest is just as important as a life lost in any major city in the world – naturally or tragically. This is something we have to be conscious of. Actively & willingly. Otherwise we become callous and insensitive to tragedies that do not pass a certain bar. & that bar involves what George Orwell eloquently captured in Animal Farm;

all animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others”

You don’t want to go there. Instead you want to go here;

Not all tragedies are the same but every human life is valuable.

2 thoughts on “Equating Tragedy

  1. I have pondered similar things. Why do we respond at a core level to some assaults on life yet not to others? I think you have hit on one of the largest reasons, and I agree. There is a discrepancy in our valuing of some life when compared with our valuing of other. I have had to ask myself why this is.

    I think the reason that we respond so deeply to some assaults when compare with others is that these particular assaults strike at the core of us. There is something about the life being assaulted with which we resonate or that is part of our own identity in some way – some part of our dream or hope of reality becomes shattered, or as you said disrupted. There is nothing wrong with that aspect of our response. It stirs our being – as it should.

    As we begin to evalutate why we identify with one life (way of being) more than another, I think we may see more clearly why the assaults even begin to take place in the first place. Culturally, we all value life (our own and others) differently. I refer to the way we value life as it is still being lived. Undoubtedly, there are commonalities in how we respond to the loss of life, especially that of a loved one. However, the core of how we operate within our lives and the lives of others on a day-to-day basis varies greatly, especially from culture to culture.

    Our seemingly disparate responses must spring from our point of reference – a reference that comes from within ourselves. I’ll be honest. I have not had enough exposure to, nor experience with those lives in the other cultures you mentioned to have a heart-rending response with regard to them (usually). I hate the travestry and the needlessness of it all, don’t get me wrong. I bear them no ill will. However, I have nothing within me with which to relate the experience they are going through to another I have known personally. I understand that my perspective is limited in this regard. Mercifully so. Given my cultural proximity to Boston, one may ask for how long this may be so.

    That said, it does not prohit me from being among those that sigh, and cry, and mourn over a world system that does not work, a system that by its very being cannot value life. The system itself is disparate. As a result, we ourselves are disparate within it and within ourselves. On that level, I can relate greatly, but I cannot make straight what has been made crooked. I do not know how to reconcile that which is broken on the outside inside my own broken heart. I have a hard enough time walking in and understanding “war and lose of life” in all those circustances around me – the ones in which death does not occur.

    I think the real question is: Do we really know how to value life?

    1. Thank you for sharing. You made me ponder this some more. It’s incredible the nuances & depth & levels in one aspect of life that one post or any words arranged in whatever array cannot adequately capture. There is always something leaking; something irreconcilable as you say.

      I think the real answer to the real question “do we really know how to value life” is a resounding NO, in capital letters, bolded & all. How can we know when we are not taught and when we are taught it is excruciating to put into practice? Because then it would mean to love like Christ did. We are too broken for that. And the system feeds off our brokenness (we helped create the system after all) and enhances it.

      The system doesn’t work. It has disappointed me time & time again. But for some reason I kept holding out my heart, going back for more. I have become wiser now. My identity is one that falls through the cracks of the system & so I cannot depend on it. But I’m becoming more comfortable in walking a different direction. Just because the culture says a thing is so doesn’t mean it is so if it ain’t so. It’s like one my favourite sayings “if 1 million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.” Culture has been turned inside –out for me and I am in the grappling of it; trying to make sense of the senseless.

      You say “the core of how we operate within our lives and the lives of others on a day-to-day basis varies greatly, especially from culture to culture.” I actually think it is not the core that varies; it is the appearance of it. And the world system latches onto this appearance and magnifies it to the point that we see no way of meeting each other at the center.

      I always remember my first flight out of Africa to Australia. I was stuck at the airport in Dubai for 5 or 6 hours. I sat in the lounge and had conversations with 4 different people from 4 different countries, backgrounds & cultures;

      The Persian/Iranian man who was struggling to feed his family & was moving to Australia to meet this core need to look after his family;

      A Filipino woman who was looking forward to changing her life and having opportunities to make her life better; job, security;

      The Ethiopian business woman who was just returning from a visit to her home country. She had gone to check on her family, to give money & a lifeline. She told me of her dreams of growing her small shop in Sydney. She was doing it for herself but also for her family.

      The French woman who had just had a baby boy. She loved him so- I could tell. She talked about him and that he was the catalyst for her moving to Australia – for a better life for him.

      I was struck because at the heart, at the very core of these people who were so different from me was this desire to LIVE. To live fully & better. This was exactly what I wanted for myself. This is what drove me and what drove them. I realised then that many of the differences are superficial. I don’t mean to minimise the challenges of difference or to sound like a humanist but very often the idea of difference is packaged as foreignness, which is real but also very, very superficial. & we have to dig around the muck otherwise we easily get lost in the appearance of a thing.

      I think if you ask any culture/person about life as it is still being lived, they will talk about their kids- they will tell you of the questions they have asked about their lives – what does it all mean? They will tell you of their emotions, their desire to matter to a loved one, a community, a people. Surely that is the core of life? Of course there are exceptions of crazy people in any culture, I cannot account for those.

      These things do not come easily for me either. It has involved a lot of wrestling with myself, with God & with the world. But I am coming into liberation, into peace one step at a time.

      I agree that there is nothing wrong with the aspect of our response triggered by the commonalities we share with those who suffer. & I hurt with you over Boston, and now Waco. & I hurt for Iran & Iraq.

      Maybe we ought to ask a new question: How do we learn to really value life?

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