Love Loses: The Aftermath of Terrorism and Humanity

starfish“You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is like an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”

―Mahatma Gandhi

Two bombs exploded near the crowded finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday, killing three people and injuring more than 140 others in a terrifying scene of broken glass, smoke and severed limbs, authorities said.

CBS Boston station WBZ-TV reports one of the three who died from the attack was an 8-year-old boy.

“Deadly bombs rock Boston marathon”

Normally I can bounce back from the impact of events like this one but not this time. I wrote about the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings more than once, and managed to recover my balance, my relationship with God and humanity, and keep on going, but somehow, this time is different. I don’t think that the specifics of the Boston Marathon horror are different, I just think all these events are cumulative. They’re piling up inside of me and crowding out my soul.

In every human being there is only so large a supply of love. It’s like the limbs of a starfish, to some extent: if you chew off a chunk, it will grow back. But if you chew off too much, the starfish dies. Valerie B. chewed off a chunk of love from my dwindling reserve … a reserve already nibbled by Charlotte and Lory and Sherri and Cindy and others down through the years. There’s still enough there to make the saleable appearance of a whole creature, but nobody gets gnawed on that way without becoming a little dead. So, if Cupid (that perverted little motherf**ker) decides his lightning ought to strike this gnarly tree trunk again, whoever or whatever gets me is going to get a handy second, damaged goods, something a little dead and a little crippled.

-Harlan Ellison
from “Valerie: A True Memoir” (1972)

Ellison doesn’t leave his commentary on personal tragedy and untimely death like that and continues by saying, “Don’t close yourself off, but jeezus, be careful of monsters with teeth.”

Harlan Ellison used to be one of my favorite authors about thirty to thirty-five years ago or so, but eventually, the anger, abrasiveness, and lawsuits that characterized his life began to take their toll on mine and I had to move on. However in moving on, I failed to take into consideration that Ellison just writes as a reflection of our human environment, and the cynicism, dissatisfaction, and out-and-out rage at life he expresses is merely the sea we’re all swimming in. That sea is full of hungry sharks and they smell blood.

Oh, these thoughts and feelings aren’t new to me and in fact, I wrote my own starfish story not too long ago.

Since this latest act of terror, two predictable messages have dominated the news and the social media outlets: encouragement and blame. Gandhi is only one example of the encouragement type message that you can find on Facebook lately. In fact, after Newtown, I based one of my meditations on something attributed to Fred Rogers:

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

I’m sure that’s true, but there seems to be only a few helpers left. The rest of us are just “helping ourselves,” usually to things that don’t belong to us.

defeated-boxerI actually wrote on this theme, disappointment in the human race, days ago, and that “meditation” will appear on Friday morning as my commentary on this week’s Torah Portion. But the sinking feeling that we are all sinking won’t leave me and I’m not going to wait until Friday to complain about it. I slept pretty well last night, but the night before was consumed with dreams of death, blood, kidnapping, and violence. I finally woke up at 3 a.m. and was glad to do so. Sometimes sleep is the only escape I can find from the battering life dishes out, but not always.

Sometimes living is a battle and the only thing you can do is fight back, maybe hoping to win, or maybe hoping just to survive the defeat.

In the clearing stands a boxer
And a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders
Of ev’ry glove that layed him down
Or cut him till he cried out
In his anger and his shame
“I am leaving, I am leaving”
But the fighter still remains

-Paul Simon (recorded by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel)
from the song “The Boxer” (1968)

In answering a question about “why bad things happen to good people” related to natural disasters, the Aish Rabbi replied:

Thank you for your thoughtful question. It is really a formulation of the classic: “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Let me try to explain:

The story is told of the king who commissioned a tapestry to be woven. In the middle of the work, someone came upon the weaver and saw a mish-mash of different colored threads, loose threads and, in general, a very messy piece of work. A complaint was issued to the king who then confronted the artist. The artist pleaded with the king for a few days to prepare his defense. After those few days he came before the king with a wrapped package and told the king, “Here is my defense.” Inside the package was the completed tapestry.

The moral is that we cannot judge the work until it is completed. Moses asked to see God’s face. That request was denied, but he was allowed to “see” God’s “back.” It is explained that Moses wanted to understand how God runs the world. The response was that it is beyond human comprehension until you see the “back.” That is, until we can see the whole picture; then in hindsight it will all make sense.

While this answer may seem a “cop-out,” it prevents us from trying to understand God’s actions from our very limited perspective. In order for us to be able to “judge God,” we need to consider God’s “ground rules” for existence. Using this premise, it becomes very difficult to judge God. Why? Because we are stuck in a finite perspective of time and space, and we can therefore never be sure which rules God is employing at any given moment.

In order to begin to make sense of this, one thing we must understand is that God is in control, and there are no accidents. There has to be intrinsic meaning in our lives; otherwise we are just a random collection of molecules whizzing through space, with no real direction or purpose.

We are living in a very complex world, and in such a world, God doesn’t only deal with individuals, he also deals with nations.

nicholas-kristofOK, I get it. God is a “big picture” kind of guy and I can’t see the forest for the trees, if you’ll forgive the mixed metaphor.

But when is enough enough? When do the encouraging messages and the happy platitudes become tiresome and ineffective? Is that why New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof blamed the GOP for the Boston Marathon explosions or why the Westboro Baptist (so called) Church is threatening to picket the funerals of the three people killed as a protest against the LGBT community?

That isn’t fighting back against injustice, that’s insane cruelty. It’s insane to hope that the bomber turns out to be an Arab Muslim or an ultra-conservative white American. The only person to blame for the explosions is the person to planted the bombs, just like the only person to blame for the Newtown School shootings is the person who pulled the trigger.

But if I truly believed that, then I could be like Gandhi, seeing these horrific acts as aberrations among a much larger humanity I can be proud to be a part of, and I could dismiss a few drops of dirty moisture as insignificant amid a sea of refreshing, life-giving water.

But it’s not just a few drops, it’s an endless flood, not of water but of gushing blood, ripped and torn flesh, and the screams and cries of the wounded and dying.

Reddit hosts specialty pages including one on Atheism which is used to make fun of religion and religious people. I guess that sort of thing floats their boat.

Anyway, I saw a photo a “redditer” posted the day after the Boston Marathon explosions of a person donating blood. The story that went along with the image said that the blood donor had been reading a lot of messages (presumably on Facebook and twitter) from Christians saying how they were praying for the victims of the explosions. He decided to do something a little more helpful by donating blood.

I couldn’t help but agree with him, not that I believe prayer ineffective, but the answer to prayer is to actually do something about it, like giving blood. Those type of people, Christians, Atheists, or otherwise, are the “helpers” Fred Rogers’ mother was talking about.

But, to recall Gandhi, are the helpers the ocean or the few drops of “clean” water that are left amid a sea of blood, mud, and fecal matter?

Jesus once lamented, “However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8 NASB). Rabbi Tzvi Freeman wrote, “One who does good brings in more light. One who fails, feeds the darkness.” I am more than aware that I am currently feeding the darkness but I’m hardly alone. For every ten people who are willing to donate blood for people who need it, the world summons ten-thousand who will be glad to shed more blood. If a hundred people hold candles in the night to defy the darkness, a million will extinguish the light, and then rape and murder the terrified victims trying to hide in the shadows.

drowningThere’s no one left to blame except ourselves, so we might as well stop pointing fingers at everyone else besides us. Our group, our political party, our religion, our gender identity, our race, our ethnic type is no more pure than anyone else’s and the one equalizing factor is that we are part of the grubby, trashy, filthy ocean of the human race. We all planted the bombs. We all pulled the trigger. We all spilled blood. We are all drowning in the pain and the death, submerged, begging for air, begging for mercy, begging for life.

Encouraging messages such those uttered by Mahatma Gandhi and Fred Rogers are meant to lift us up out of that ocean so that we can, by resisting discouragement and depression, rise above and lead others to be agents of change and optimism.

But Gandhi and Mr. Rogers are both dead. All of the heroes are dead. The world we live in now looks up to people like Honey Boo Boo, Snooki, and Kim Kardashian. Welcome to the “progressive” age of humanity. The Prophet Isaiah was correct when he said that in the last days good would be called evil and evil would be called good. The apostle Paul expanded on this:

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.

2 Timothy 3:1-5 (ESV)

Paul wisely advised those reading his letter to avoid such people, but how is that possible when they are the only people in the world (or so it seems)? In Arkansas, groups are suing the state for the “right” to abort babies up until birth rather than banning abortions after twelve weeks gestation (as if killing a baby at any time could be considered a “good” thing to do). People are obsessed with American Idol and couldn’t care less about any suffering that CNN and the New York Times doesn’t deem worthy of attention. We greave now for the eight-year old boy who was killed in the Boston explosions, but next week, he’ll be replaced by the latest “reality TV show.” And this piece of obvious bigotry didn’t help.

The Joker, played by Heath Ledger is the film The Dark Knight (2008) was right: “When the chips are down, these… these civilized people, they’ll eat each other.”

And we will. Rob Bell (infamously) wrote a book called Love Wins. He was wrong.

161 days.

11 thoughts on “Love Loses: The Aftermath of Terrorism and Humanity”

  1. “Paul wisely advised …to avoid such people, but how is that possible when they are the only people in the world (or so it seems)?”

    “All of the heroes are dead”

    All the more reason to be the “called out” ones and live counter to our culture.

  2. I feel the same sense of dread and get overwhelemed at the evil we’re surrounded by too, especially with my kids on the (East Coast)

    what I tell myself is that it is hard, but on the other hand it isn’t rocket science either.

  3. In some sense, we all survive emotionally and spiritually by ignoring the problems in the world most of the time. If anyone, religious or not, were to focus on each and every “pain point” that happens in the world, unfiltered by the biases of any news agency or political/social agenda, and experience everything in its raw form, we’d be amazingly overwhelmed and crushed flatter than a hockey puck.

    Christians, in some sense, hide behind God with statements like “I’ll pray for you,” or “My God is bigger than that,” or “God has already won the victory.” We forget that the apostles said none of that and instead, encountered life as it occurred, pleasant or not. For their trouble, they were all executed, some horribly.

    Resisting all these acts of evil as reported by CNN and MSNBC (and so on) and resisting the propaganda produced by CNN and MSNBC (and so on) is a lot like Paul resisting the large, polytheistic Greek and Roman “machines” of his day in order to spread the message of salvation to the Gentles. He also had to resist something of a “machine” within the normative Judaisms which, for the most part, didn’t oppose the message of Messiah, but most certainly opposed the inclusion of unconverted Gentiles into “the Way.”

    How did he do that? Well, he was handpicked by the Messiah as worthy for the task. Most of us aren’t. Most other people would have crumbled if put in Paul’s position.

    Now magnify all that a couple of thousand times and transport it into the 21st century.

    Where does my help come from?

  4. Truth be told, I think some people are more empathic than others. It’s not dismissal, it’s just that nothing really shocks me anymore. I was disgusted and lit a candle and gave a prayer, but I’ve never been really – really – bothered by things I see on the tube. If it does bother me, it takes a while for it to sink in. It is just starting to as I write this.

    When I was maybe 12 or whatever, I was coming home from Caesar’s Creek Dam with my dad, and some hot-rod plowed into a pickup. He, myself, and a few neighbors stood agog as the teens were roasted alive in a towering, pyrogenic rage within the sealed car. It never phased me like it did my brother, I think. 115 people were killed in fiery auto crashes today, and when my Atheist friend would ask why G-d enacted biblical annihilations (a common taunt), I would reply to him that 115 people died in auto crashes around the United States, and more throughout the world, and then I asked him why he felt it was so evil of G-d to decimate this or that when it happens in wide diffusion every second. Perhaps as people we feel that this is acceptable, so long as it does not happen in certain places and in certain ways, and perhaps not concentrated in one place or time.

    In order for it to affect me, I have to internalize it, like I’m getting blown up or burned myself, and then maybe picture a brief interval when my consciousness winks out and I step into the void. It’s then when I can say “Holy Sh*t!” But I have to really ruminate on it or even write about it.

    Whatever the case may be and whatever dark days that I am almost certain are coming, I can probably rely off this latency to keep a stiff upper lip.

  5. Shuddering days later when I realize something is really bad is part of what my friends call my “low emotional IQ.”

  6. Drake, this was the first thing to pop into my head when reading your comments.

    MCCOY: Suffer the death of thy neighbour, eh, Spock? You wouldn’t wish that on us, would you?
    SPOCK: It might have rendered your history a bit less bloody.

    The Immunity Syndrome
    Star Trek: The Original Series

    I guess I just wear my heart on my sleeve. Different internal “wiring,” I suppose.

  7. “’Where is God?’ he cried, ‘I shall tell you. We have killed him – you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how have we done this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Away from all suns?

    Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night and more night coming on all the while? Must not lanterns be lit in the morning? Do we not hear anything yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying G-d?… G-d is dead… And we have killed him. How shall we, the murderers of all murderers, comfort ourselves?”

    The inevitable cruelty, and indifference, of a world, without G-d.

    We hang our heads low.

    Shalom, James.

  8. @Drake: Thanks. That’s one way of putting it.

    @Yeshua Adonai: We haven’t killed God, just our sensitivity to Him.

    @Everyone: By the number of people who have stopped following this blog since I posted this “meditation,” I can see it had an impact…unfortunately, not the one I intended. Then again, I didn’t really intend to elicit a specific response as I was just “wearing my heart on my sleeve,” as I said above. I guess frustration and angst doesn’t play well in the blogosphere.

  9. James, I worked for six months on a grant-funded project with a non-profit agency writing best practice methodology dealing with the subject of trauma and substance abuse, It was based on surveys filled out by mental health staff and first responders in NYC ten weeks after 9/11. The research speaks to ways to mitigate the effects of trauma and reduce the probability of substance abuse post-trauma. The research speaks to ways to mitigate the effects of trauma and reduce the probability of substance abuse post-trauma. In a nutshell, staying emotionally “close” to the trauma, not “escaping” from it, leads to good mental health. And it sounds like that’s what you’re doing. There is a link between suffering and redemption. This makes sense to me as we must stay close to the greatest trauma of them all, the death of Messiah, in order to stay in good spiritual health. But it is difficult to deal with, I know. I think that by staying close to the trauma that happened on such an epic scale during the Shoah it somehow helps me make sense of traumatic events like 9/11, but I’m not sure exactly how. Here’s the link: I wrote most of the “Tip Sheet” material, based on the best practice model other professionals put together.

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