Since the moment last Monday when I was sitting at my desk in downtown Boston and a colleague shouted, “What the Hell just happened?” I’ve run through the expected gamut of emotions. I’ve been scared. I’ve been angry. I’ve been sad. I’ve been worried. I’ve been defiant. I’ve been resilient.
And then something else entirely. I’ve felt guilty.
I know. One of these things is not like the others. But feelings are what they are.
Over five days, madmen killed 4 people in my city and wounded 185 others. It was horrific. And terrifying. And the world stopped and turned its eyes and its hearts and its prayers to us. There was no other story on the news. By Monday afternoon, it seemed that nothing else mattered.
Once the perpetrators were on the run, we shut down our city to find them. We ‘sheltered in place’ as per the orders of the authorities. We dutifuly waited inside our homes, our schools, our places of business and watched as the heroes quietly and methodically did their work. Emergency workers and first responders descended on our city from all over the country. Nothing was going to stop them from keeping us safe.
On television and the Internet, in newspapers and magazines and blogs, there was no other news. Nothing else mattered.
But there was. And it did.
On the same day, 55 people were killed in coordinated attacks around Iraq.
And … and … and.
But none of that made the front page. And whether or not we want to admit it, even if it had, it wouldn’t have changed our perception much. Because we expect violence ‘over there.’ Because when we take in the numbers, they are just that – numbers.
55, 41, 13, 2, 15.
Tragic, maybe, but par for the course. The horror is distant. Muted. Different. We don’t halt our day to mourn. We don’t stop in our tracks to pray.
But when WE are attacked, the numbers are no longer numbers. They’re PEOPLE. They’re OUR people. And that demands an entirely different level of outrage.
When I set out to write this post, I thought it had nothing to do with our usual topics of discussion – autism, perception, dignity, compassion, humanity. I was wrong.
We might not be not talking specifically about autism, but, well, we kind of are. Because autism is a disability and a difference and disabilities are differences and in the end, that’s what this comes down to, isn’t it? How we perceive and then rationalize our perception of difference?
When we allow ourselves to believe that our tragedy is different from someone else’s tragedy because, well, it’s US for Heaven’s sake, we are perpetuating the hierarchy of value on human life that is at the root of each and every kind of discrimination. When we say, tacitly or otherwise, that OUR loss of life and OUR terror and OUR pain is bigger, worse, more important, *different* from any other because we can relate to the victims, we are feeding an environment of bigotry.
Human life is sacred. ALL human life. Not just the kind that’s familiar. Not just the kind that speaks our language or lives in our town or looks like or dresses like or worships like or thinks like or moves like or communicates like us. ALL life is sacred. When we allow ourselves — or our media or our educators or our lawmakers — to create boxes labeled US and THEM, anything to which we can’t relate becomes THEM – and THEM is always of lesser value than US.
Over the weekend, my friend, Emily shared a wonderful post written by her brother, Tony, who, due to Friedreich’s Ataxia, relies on a wheelchair or scooter for mobility. The post is about how being referred to as a ‘regular’ by a waitress in a restaurant that he and his wife frequent made him feel good. It is a sweet vignette, but the reason that it made him feel good was like a stake to the heart.
“So when people you don’t really know refer to you as “regulars” it makes you feel good. It makes you feel like you’ve managed to be seen as a person and not just a living, breathing wheelchair!
Being seen as a person is a major thing. I would hazard a guess that everyone wants to be seen as a person; not just a thing.
I know I do.”
I stared at his words for a while, wondering just how far we must have strayed off course for the acknowledgement of one’s humanity to be cause for celebration.
Human life — ALL human life — has value. Equal, sacred, inalienable intrinsic value.
There’s been a lot of talk from people all over the world this week about “standing with us” here in Boston through our ordeal. When the sh-t hit the fan, you stepped up and said you (we) were all Bostonians. You said we were all in this together. And we were — and are — deeply grateful. Solidarity means something. Sometimes it means everything.
In that vein, I’d like to send a message back to the world today.
We stand with you.
We are all human.
We are all in this together.