(photo credit: _Emotions 04 by SeRGioSVox on flickr.com. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode)
A woman I used to know called out to me in the grocery store parking lot. I was loading my car; she was on her way in.
The last time I saw her was at an event five years ago, where I presented her oldest daughter J. with a college scholarship award.
She had been particularly touched by the award because J. was one of those kids who flew under the radar and was rarely recognized in a public forum. I know this because the woman told me exactly that at the reception after the award ceremony, again in a thank you note she sent the next day, and again during our brief conversation in the parking lot today.
In the parking lot, the first thing she said after hello was that J. was graduating from college next week. I congratulated her and asked a few questions about J., which she excitedly answered. Her child was thriving. She’d been living in L.A. working as an intern at a well-respected television production company and was all set to move back out there after graduation.
We started to say goodbye when I realized that I was troubled by something she’d glossed over during our talk, so I asked about it. And she explained.
Two years ago, her daughter was taking her laptop into the Apple Store in downtown Boston on the day of the Boston Marathon. The infamous bomb exploded and her daughter was lifted off her feet and thrown down the street. At the hospital, she was treated for burns and had shrapnel removed from her limbs. Then she was rushed to Mass Eye and Ear, as she had shrapnel in her eyes.
Once she was released from the hospital, she stayed with her parents for a week or two before returning to her life at college. Her mother said that after the bombing, something shifted in J. and she began to take her life more seriously. J. already knew she loved film production, but now, she threw herself into her work with greater focus than she had before. Miraculously (her mother’s word), J.’s eyesight was not damaged by the shrapnel. If it had been, she may have had to consider switching her career ambitions.
After the woman left, I leaned against my car in shock. I thought about how strange it was that I didn’t know this happened to her. We live less than a mile away from each other and our community tends to join together when somebody, especially somebody young, contracts a terrible illness or is involved in a tragic accident. The woman said that they kept it pretty quiet. Still, I felt sick that I hadn’t known. Not that I could have done much to ease their fears or her pain. But I could have helped. Somehow.
We’ve all heard the quote, “Be kind for everyone is fighting a battle you cannot see,” and most of us would like to believe we keep this in the forefront of our minds as we deal with others. In many circumstances, we are able to do this.
But . . . it is difficult to remember when you are upset about something that is happening that seems (or is) unjust or evil.
Last week in my hometown of Baltimore, both peaceful and violent riots broke out over the death of Freddie Gray. Clearly, there are serious issues regarding racism and the police in Baltimore city and around the country, but what makes me angry is how the media only picks up on the most inflammatory parts of what is happening and this fuels the fire of those in pain, leading to a kind of unrest that is rarely fruitful.
My first reaction to most things is emotional. How does it make me feel? Then I think about why it makes me feel that way. Then I act. Or do nothing. Depending on the situation.
When a situation is as central to a person’s being as racism is to someone of color, they are certain to respond emotionally. And then, they are likely to take action to change the situation. And others, who believe in equal rights, are inclined to join in the effort.
From my understanding, for the week after Freddie Gray’s death, the people of Baltimore protested peacefully. It was after the funeral, that the protests became violent. I don’t know exactly what started the looting and the threats against the police, but I do know that when people are emotionally charged, they often act without regard for those whom they view as their opponent. They are too caught up in their pain to consider anybody else’s situation: the people who own and work in the stores that are looted, the families of the police officers being threatened, the police officers who are working to change the racism that exists on the force, the children who can’t go outside and play, etc.
I don’t think it is a problem easily solved. Our emotions run deep and often override our intelligence. The media makes it worse, playing to our emotions. The mob mentality enters the equation and suddenly we are not working to fix the deeply rooted problems we face. Instead, we look for a scapegoat, who may or may not deserve to be punished, and we judge them and cheer. Then we go about our business as if the problem is somehow solved.
Of course, it isn’t, and because we act as though our society “solved” the problem, we stop attending to it and ultimately put the hurt of others, which we recognized briefly, behind us or at least out of view.
Everybody hurts. If we can act out of kindness rather than rage, maybe we’d do a better job of helping each other and making our world a better place.
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