scared thrilled scared thrill scared thrilled

I find most things in life both scary and thrilling. I suppose I should hope it's always this way, but sometimes it feels like an awful lot of work.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

A response.

This is a wee something I wrote to my HIA fellows after the shooting of six women down the street from me a couple of weeks ago. It's not beard-related, but I think we're past that at this point.

A couple of days ago a man walked into Seattle’s Jewish Centre, three blocks from my apartment on a street I walk every day, declared that he was a Muslim American upset at Israel, and shot 6 women, killing one and wounding the others. The blood of one victim was washed from the steps of a coffee shop where I sit and read newspaper stories about lands far away.
Welcome Home.
Today I walked by the Centre, stopping to read the notes of support and smell the flowers left by sympathizers.
There’s a sense of relative peacefulness here in the United States that allows the starkest realities of hatred and conflict to remain somewhat esoteric. As I listened to the sirens last Friday filtering through my window, and watched the live news reports showing bleeding, frightened people running down streets I know, past the little park where I sit, the reality of the wars in Lebanon and Iraq changed. In a small but important way they became palpable, hold-able, feel-able. More than pictures. More than ideas.
Shootings are not particularly uncommon in Seattle. Thanks (possibly) to 226 days of cloud/rain per year, this city has the highest rate of suicides and serial killings in the United States. But there's something different about murder, as response, as statement. I had first heard that the shooting started simply as a bungled hold-up of the coffee shop around the corner. Death is always tragic, but as the motivation became clear my heart sank further.
In Seattle we have somewhat consoled ourselves with reports of the shooter's troubled psychiatric past, and it has been wonderful to watch the Muslim, Christian and Jewish communities join in support. But some things remain; the sensation of the world shrinking, the feeling that we are accountable for the policies of those we've elected, Michael Johnson's question, what can we do. What can I do? This is my city, my neighbourhood.
I have been glad to see, here in Seattle, the response of a culture which does not allow or support such callous demonstration. This city is a left-wing outpost, and support for the Bush Administration's policies in the Middle East is probably as low as it is in Paris (ok, maybe not quite). But criticism, anger, even hatred, must be held in check by a commitment to higher values. Easy to say when the effects remain removed by oceans and continents. A bit harder when a small taste is delivered to my neighbourhood. Harder still when it’s my sister, brother, friend who falls.
This summer we engaged in a program of study whose stated goal was to help create societies where violent expressions of hatred will not be tolerated. For the first time in my life, the form of my own commitment to this ideal was challenged. What does it mean that I care about the plight of marginalized groups? Where are the boundaries of that commitment? What do I expect to actually do about it? Have I allowed the complexities of context and nuance to create vast gray areas in which my own complacency is rationalized and my inaction accepted?
There is nothing gray about the shooting of six women in Seattle, or six men on a mountain road in Bosnia, or the bombing of a truckload of Lebanese refugees. These are real events and they are death and life to real people.
As someone whose closest connection to such tragedy is a common coffee shop, a shared locale, how can I understand those whose connection is common blood, or a shared community? Until a tragedy touches me in such a way, I have to operate without the unfortunate advantage of empathy. In its place must come a powerful, sensitive and intelligent sympathy that allows the real colours of these tragedies, their blood reds and deathly blacks to compel me to engage the foggy world of context and realpolitique with deliberate sensitivity and passion.


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