It started out awesome: "Boston. Fucking horrible."
More than 252,000 people liked Patton Oswalt's Facebook update regarding Monday's horrifying Boston Marathon attack. More than 48,000 people clicked "like" on The Huffington Post's reprint thus far. Obviously, Patton Oswalt's sage words are helping many to heal from the intense pain of yet another senseless act of terrorism (domestic or otherwise). And I so want to feel uplifted by their optimism that we're a "giant planet and we're lucky to live on it," that we need to focus on the "people running TOWARDS the destruction to help out" and that "the vast majority stands against that darkness."
However, I am finding myself feeling sad, even cranky. I've got battle fatigue, despite that I haven't left New York all week. Maybe it's the rapid onslaught of violence that seems to have escalated in the past decade, if not just the past year. Maybe I'm just feeling negative for personal reasons (my father passed away just two weeks ago from lung cancer).
But here's the rub: I am not at all certain that the good people on this planet "dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evildoers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak." No. I am not certain of that at all.
I have no doubt that Oswalt is correct in his statement that we can look "violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance" in the eye and think, "the good outnumber you, and we always will." It feels good to say so. Really good, in fact. Just like it felt good when I was watching Schindler's List and marveling at how a just a few good people intercepted the commission of unspeakable evil, at least on a small scale (at this point in time, Poland has still never fully recovered its Jewish population).
However, like Oskar Schindler mourning the fact that it "wasn't enough," I mourn the very real possibility that the forces of good being greater than the forces of evil may simply not be enough.
I wish I could be cheered by the notion that the sheer numbers are in favor of "good." I wish I could see the "good" as "white blood cells attacking a virus." But instead (and granted, maybe this is the fallout from my father's recent death), I see a tiny, virulent cancer cell with the capacity to ravage a healthy body into carrion. The capacity of one bad "cell" cannot be underestimated. While I wish I could jump on the "the good shall overcome" bandwagon, I am exhausted from the fight.
I lived in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001. I lost friends, friends lost spouses, children lost parents, and parents lost children. But I never lost faith in humanity, not even for one moment. What I did recognize is that life is precious, that it can be destroyed by a lack of humanity and that good does not always overcome evil. At least that's what the current scorecard says.
I listened in horror to the news the day that one of the first responders from the Oklahoma City bombing committed suicide. A month or so after the Aurora, Colo. movie theater massacre, I let my teenage sons go to the movies again. At first, I didn't want them to go to movies that depicted violence, because in some desperate attempt to impose order on chaos, my mind tried to connect the shooting with movie violence. Then after the December 14 massacre of first- and second-graders and their teachers in a quiet elementary school in a bucolic suburb not even an hour's drive from me, I realized that whether my kids went to the midnight showing of Batman or Sunday's Disney matinee, I couldn't feel safe because nothing was safe anymore. And all it took was one bad person.
I ran in the New York City Marathon three times in the 1990s. When I heard the news on Monday, a part of me breathed a sigh of relief that I could never run fast enough to qualify to run the Boston Marathon. Then I laughed at my folly. Was that what kept me out of harm's way on Monday? Or is it something else? If so, then why didn't something keep 8-year old Martin Richard out of harm's way? Why wasn't the essential goodness of an 8-year old child enough to overcome the evil that day? Why wasn't the essential goodness of 500,000 race participants (whether as runner or spectator) enough to overcome one small cell of evil?
I certainly don't fault Patton Oswalt for speaking the kind words that comforted so many, or inspiring perhaps hundreds of thousands of people with the notion that there is still hope for our planet because good does outnumber evil. It's not Oswalt's fault that I am not comforted. It's not his fault that I feel intense pain at the idea that someone who lost both of his legs on Monday may have just run 26 miles with those legs. That has nothing to do with Patton Oswalt, and it doesn't take away the essential truth of what he wrote, which is that there are so many many more good people than bad.
But I can't help but want something more. I feel unsatisfied. I don't feel soothed. Perhaps the problem is that I don't want to be soothed? Perhaps the idea that I might feel better tomorrow or the next day frightens me because I suspect that being soothed may simply lay the groundwork for another "shocking" attack. I have heard people call for the death of whomever planted the bombs, and I know that the thought of harsh justice provides comfort to some. I have comforted myself at times by wishing upon the perpetrators a different form of justice -- one that might be worse than death: a life behind bars without ever seeing the sun, a life without family and with no hope for martyrdom. I have comforted myself at times by imagining that somehow the perpetrators will someday feel remorse and that the victims and their families will someday find peace.
But the comfort does not last. What I really want is for the evil to stop. Will it stop because there are more good people than bad? I'm sorry, but I just don't think so. It has never worked that way, at least not to my knowledge. What I want is reason to believe that someone is thinking about new ways to end the violence, and that whomever is thinking about it has the power to put a workable plan into effect. It won't be a plan that involves multiplying the number of good by killing off all the bad or by moving the bad to an island or another planet. Instead, it will be a plan that takes into account the nature of evil, and how and why one apple can spoil the whole barrel.
I wish I had the answers. And I wish that my words could comfort hundreds of thousands the way the words of Patton Oswalt have. I won't pretend that these words of mine will comfort anyone. But what I wish is that we all give some critical thought to what our vast number of good people can do to vanquish the small but destructive force of evil.
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