What Are We Going To Do About It?
Today as I walked back to work from the bank, I momentarily lost track of my sanity. Or, perhaps, I brushed up against it for the first time in a long time.
At a corner, waiting for a light, I looked to my left and saw the image that just wrenched the consciousness of the civilized world, a Syrian man holding his dead twin babies, who had died in a chemical weapon strike. Like a lot of people the world over who saw that image, my initial shock emptied into a vacuum of feeling. My self-interested brain couldn’t handle that picture.
In the same moment, about twenty feet away, a pair of nomadic crusty-punks burst into laughter over some unrelated thing, releasing huge plumes of pot smoke as they did so. I don’t know why that got to me in the moment. You see that sort of benign idiocy in Berkeley all the time.
But today, right then, I thought I might cry with rage. I wanted to grab those stoners by the throat and scream at them, “what are you doing? Stop getting high and fight!”
It seems so silly now, just a few hours later. Fight what? Fight who? Stop getting high? Odds are good that if someone removed all the THC from their bloodstreams, those crusty-punks would just fight each other. Or maybe me.
And who am I to be judging anyone? I saw that photo of that atrocity, just like I saw that iconic image of the dead little boy on the beach in Turkey last Summer, and it was all I could do to just keep walking, to go on with my day as if the rote tasks I had to perform were even remotely significant. What have I ever done to address a humanitarian crisis? Have I ever sacrificed anything to help correct an injustice?
I don’t have guns. I don’t have much money. Syria is half a world away. Is it enough to vote a certain way, to send a little cash to the ACLU every month, and to pray that this kind of grand-scale horror never shows up in California?
For the man with the two dead babies, there is no more value in the world. The competing interests all around him have lost their meaning. Money cannot buy him any more time with his children. Power has proven itself to be nothing more than the annihilation of joy. As it always, ultimately, does.
In the face of this, of all of this, I find myself formulating a question that maybe no one can answer but all of us should ask each other. Is my task to do right, to be true to the love I have at home, to protect my own wife and child with every ounce of my being, and to learn to live with the world on the world’s terms?
Or is my task to fight on behalf of all humans? And if it’s the latter, what form should that fight take?
This is not meant as a rhetorical question. I am asking. There is a vice-grip on my heart, and I am really asking.