Sunday, April 21, 2013

After Anger, Only Sadness

On Tuesday, as the events of the Boston Marathon bombings sank in, I, along with most of the United States, was angry.  I wrote about how we are defined, not by our anger, but by what we choose to do with it.  Now, though, the anger has faded.  The story ended, as too many of these stories do, with a scared young man lying in a puddle of his own blood, pathetically trying to hide from the consequences of his actions.

And when it comes down to it, that's what this story is: pathetic and sad.  We don't yet know what drove these two men to mass murder -- though plenty of people are willing to fill the airwaves and the internet with their own theories -- and even if we ever hear the full story we probably won't understand it.  I have dark corners in my soul, but even so I cannot imagine the sequence of events that would lead me to say, "I know, let's blow up some people who've never done anything to us!  That will show them -- er -- something!"  I don't know what dark visions of glory, fame, or notoriety lead someone down this path, and I'll be honest: I don't want to.  I don't want to understand it, empathize with it, or justify it.    Nor do I want to spend my energy demonizing these two young men.  Their actions speak for themselves, and nothing I can say will make them any more or less evil than they are.

As always, there's a danger here for those of us who seek a deeper meaning or motive behind these events.  As we look at the backgrounds of two immigrants who chose to turn on their adopted countrymen, and as we look for ways to sustain our fading anger, we can find all sorts of generalizations that help us make sure that we aren't the kinds of people who could commit such a heinous act.  They're Chechens, and those people have always been dirty fighters.  Just ask the Russians!  The older brother recently renewed his commitment to Islam, and we know how dangerous that can be!  They had funny-sounding names.  Never trust a man with two consonants at the beginning of his name!  And on, and on.

Each generalization gives us a new target for our wrath, another category of human being who is less human than we.  It allows us to vent our rage on women and children, as one man did in Malden this week.  It allows us to hate this 19-year-old boy and suggest setting him on fire or cutting him to pieces for his crimes, as I saw people do on Facebook and Twitter this week.  It allows us to sustain our wrath, because we feel that this is the only way to honor the fallen, to recognize the simple wrongness of this act and hold it in our hearts.  In the face of great evil, we depend upon our anger to sustain us, and in so doing we perpetuate the evil and reflect it upon others who have done us no harm.

For me at least, the time for anger has passed.  The perpetrators have been caught, and if there are more who worked with them, then they will be caught, too.  Let justice be served as it should be: rationally, dispassionately, and fairly.  As the story continues to unfold, as motives are ascribed, described, and invented, let us remember that we were not attacked by a nation or a religion, but by individuals who had chosen the darker path.  As we grieve with parents, children, brothers, and sisters who have lost loved ones this week, let us truly grieve.  Let the tears flow and perform their cleansing action, washing away the anger and leaving only the sadness that, hopefully, will also fade with time.  Let us refrain from attention-grabbing displays of grief and anguish, from public breast-beating by people who have only a passing connection to tragedy.  Let us grieve together, then let us heal together.

I've had a lot of tears this week as I watched this drama unfold: tears of sadness for lives cut short, of anger for a city wounded and a sacred event destroyed, of pride in my city's response to yet another tragedy.  I am sure that something will touch my heart again as I watch my city heal.  I hope that I will be able to feel nothing but pride as Boston pulls together again to help the wounded, to lift up the grieving, and to keep the blame where it belongs.  Stand strong, Boston, and stand together in the light.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

On Anger, in Sadness

I am angry.  I want to howl, to rage, to hit an old-timey cowboy over the head with a chair.  Someone blew a hole in my memories yesterday, desecrating an event that represents the purity of competition and international cooperation, and marking my "other hometown" as a target once again.   I don't live in Boston anymore, but the bombing at the Boston Marathon struck home as deeply as if I were still walking those streets.  I used to watch the marathon from that very corner, and now I'm pissed.

You've heard of anger, right?  It's fear's brawnier twin, the aggressive half of the fight-or-flight instinct. It fills the veins with adrenaline and the muscles with blood, ready to pound any threat into the ground. It also focuses the mind, the better to identify and outsmart any predator.  When we are angry, we become the human equivalent of a heat-seeking missile; our mission: seek out and destroy the target.

Of course, that's the problem with my anger right now: I have no target.  None of us do.  We want someone to blame, and our anger wants to see that person's hide stretched out on the gold roof of the Capitol Building.  In fact, I'm not sure that would even be enough.  I want a shot at him first, just for five minutes, then someone else can have a turn.  When we're all done, then they can have his hide for an awning.

Did I mention that I was pissed?

People will tell you that you shouldn't be angry, that it's not healthy.  They will tell you that you shouldn't be angry at whoever did this, but that you should feel sorry for them or try to see things from their point of view.  These murderers felt justified in what they did, they had good reasons for it, so all getting angry does is give you ulcers.  They will tell you that reasonable people don't get angry, because anger is a primitive emotion that has no place in civilized society.

I say they're wrong.

When good people see a heinous act, anger is an appropriate response.  In fact, it's a righteous response.  Getting angry at the murder of innocents shows that you understand the difference between good and evil.  Explaining it away as a reasoned response to some political situation shows that you have murdered your own conscience on the altar of intellect.  In the face of evil, I recommend a good old-fashioned, heart-pumping, fist-shaking rage.

It's what we do with our anger that differentiates us.  When the missile is armed and ready to fire, which target will you choose?  In the absence of a perpetrator, will you invent a target, a political straw man to beat on for your own purposes?  Will you let that anger leak out on your friends, colleagues, and loved ones?  Will you go out and find someone who looks like the kind of person who would do this sort of thing and beat the crap out of him?  Or will you put that focus and energy to better use?

Now that your mind is focused, what will you set it on?  Now that your muscles are strong, what load will you carry?

I want to scream and cry.  I want to punch holes in things and destroy private property.  I want five minutes, just five minutes, alone with a self-righteous bomber so that I can show him the error of his ways.  Instead, I choose to turn toward the light.  I choose to love my family fiercely, to protect them from hate, to teach them to love, and to give them the tools to know the difference between the two.  I choose to use this energy to make the world better, to focus on the problems before me and provide solutions, to seek opportunities to love and laugh, to fill this world with joy.  In so doing, I strike the hardest blow that I can against hate, against fear, and against evil.  Just try and stop me.

I am madder than hell, and I will not take this lying down.