Heartsick. Horrified. Violated. And of course, senseless. Columbine and Tucson segue into Newtown which yields to the marathon in our endless sequence of one- and two-word catastrophes. Yet we don't get numbed to it, which is a sign of our continuing humanity amidst the madness. Because it is madness. Whatever the political or psychological forces that drive people to do these things, such people are demented, they have lost touch with viable reality. Perhaps evil can also be said to be working through them. If the word "evil" has any meaning in this world, in our language, then these events are the work of persons in the grip of "evil" or who are evil themselves. You can put a devil behind it if you'd like. You can believe that such evil cannot exist without a more powerful force for good and you can call that force God or Nature or Creation or just a random impulse towards kindness that somehow got stuck inside whatever it is that drives human behavior. That's the way we tend to think. Where there's bad there has to be a counter-balance of good. Most philosophies and religions assert that the balance is tipped, on a cosmic scale, towards the good. I'm not so sure but I can't and don't want to try to prove the opposite, so I'll continue to try and work it out for myself.
What I do know is that whether it's three lives lost or three thousand, as in 9/11, the grief we feel on behalf of the victims and their families feels equally intense. The three precious human beings that some idiot killed on Monday, the lives that will be forever affected by devastating injuries, the immeasurable pain of family members, are all beyond any calculation of impact. A single life possesses infinities of possibility, of love, of striving and triumph, of small pains and meaningless (in the "grand scheme") but satisfying victories, such as repairing a broken door or making one's children smile.
Such tragedies remind us that the "grand scheme" is not so very grand after all, that the ambitions of those who seek greater and greater riches or larger and larger empires can seem "a paltry thing, a tattered coat upon a stick" as William Butler Yeats wrote in another context. How much can one human being feel? How good does wealth or power feel when measured against a life well-lived? How does the battlefield victory measure up to the compassion and courage of those who raced to the aid of Monday's bombing victims, not even considering whether more explosions lay in wait.
This is not the time to politicize this event, though every act of criminal violence has its political aspects. But sympathy is not a full-time preoccupation and it ebbs and flows with the movement of the day and the observations and reflections of our minds. We feel so strongly for those with whom we can identify, less so for others. There is nothing wrong about this. There is nothing in the human animal or even the human mind that prepares us to weep for those half a world away as we do for those who could easily be our friends or neighbors. It is enough that we do care enough about distant strangers to realize that just as we mourn Monday's victims, or the children and educators of Sandy Hook, so too does each person around the world have people who care equally for them, from their closest relatives to their neighbors to those who share the same background and culture.
So it may well be the time to acknowledge that almost every day brings news that our nation, our government, our president and armed forces, wield weapons in an endless war that also destroys innocent children, their mothers, their entire families. And as much as we despise as evil whoever perpetrated the marathon bombings, so too must they feel about us. Perhaps that is enough to say for today. Perhaps it is too much or not enough. I don't know. But it must be said because human life is too precious to dispose of with the conviction that claims of good intentions somehow excuse turning the reality of savaged, torn-apart bodies into the smug, coldly reassuring term "collateral damage."
"What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow/Out of this stony rubbish?" asks T.S. Eliot in "The Wasteland." Life. Kindness. Hope. We cannot undo what happened last Monday. We can, however, cease the mad violence for which we are responsible, over which we have control. That would be the truest and best memorial we can offer to those so hurt by last Monday's blasts, by all the damned blasts that afflict our world day after tragic day.