Monday, April 22, 2013

Bombings, Hospitals and Inexplicable Compassion

Last Monday at this time I was sitting in an ER waiting room with my fiancé. A nurse turned up the television. We sat with thirty strangers, horrified at the images, scanning Twitter for faster news. Beside us a toddler with a gash on her forehead giggled and played, blissfully unaware.

Today I am sitting in a hospital room again, kind of wishing that toddler and her innocence were still nearby. Not a lot has changed in my fiancé's situation, but it seems that while we have been in and out of hospitals and doctor's offices the rest of New England, and America, has changed. Rapidly. And not necessarily for the better.

This bombing is not unique, yet we have all accepted what feels like a movie-worthy level of horror and tense plot, letting ourselves believe the media-induced fear and distancing ourselves from all reality.

I remember the Oklahoma City bombing well because, like this bombing, it happened the week of my birthday. I remember 167 people dying. Over 700 injured. I remember crying when I saw the photo of the fireman walking out of the building with a dead toddler in his arms.

I don't remember them shutting down Oklahoma City. In fact, I don't remember a city shutdown to this extent ever.

I don't believe that number of police, army personnel, etc has ever been called in for two young men before either.

I also don't believe the entire country has ever witnessed in real-time a manhunt to this capacity. That, above all else, feels the most unreal to me. For the entire nation to be watching, rooting on our "team" like we were witnessing a sports game, while a frightened teenager hid in a boat in someone's yard is just bizarre.

What is different between this crime and Oklahoma City?

I fear September 11, 2001 made the difference. I fear this incredibly drawn out, still undefined and increasingly frustrating war made the difference.

I fear that prejudice and xenophobia made the difference. Timothy McVeigh was born in New York.

With little else to do while waiting on hospital test results I've been reading. Steve Almond has, yet again, hit the nail on the head with this article. Two quotes in particular feel the most notable to me:

"To be clear: Those who were injured in the bombings, or who witnessed them (a group that includes a good friend of ours and her three young sons), have every right to characterize the past week as a living hell, as do those who were directly in the path of the manhunt mayhem, as do any loved ones.

As for the rest of us, tracking the action from the comfort of our sofas doesn’t quite meet the “living hell” smell test. And it strikes me as disrespectful to the actual victims of the Boston blasts—not to mention the victims of the terrorist attacks that take place all across the globe every week—to pretend otherwise."

"I refuse to beat my chest over a grief that belongs to others, or shout about how terrorists messed with the wrong city. I find no virtue in braying over the capture of a teenager whose toxic grievances, and misguided loyalties, led to such senseless ruin. It is sad, all of it."

I am happy that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his brother will not be able to cause more pain for others. I rejoice in that. But the overly-dramatized celebration, paralleling a New Year's Eve party, feels wrong. I do not feel premature death - no matter if it is self-induced or accidental, no matter a person's crimes, no matter if it physical death or life imprisonment - is something to celebrate.

This blog post expresses much that I haven't been able to figure out how to say about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The compassion I find myself inexplicably feeling for him.

These bombings have been happening around the world. That same day 27 people died in bombings in Iraq. Any place can become a war zone without a moment's notice. That's the reality of the world so long as people believe violence is the answer.

Here I sit in this hospital room, waiting to hear a diagnosis. Feeling compassion for my fiancé who is in pain. Feeling compassion for a murderer who is in a hospital two hours away. And I am sad because in my compassion for him I feel guilt. I feel like I may be shunned for registering this young man as a human being. As though by not believing he is a monster I am somehow disgracing the memory of those who died at his hand. But I feel it. I feel for him. I hope he finds his way, though I fear he won't have the opportunity in this life.

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