Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Responding to Human Tragedy

Your brain goes into a helpless overdrive. I remember the day when a man on the street in Bolivia identified me as an American, and told me "it´s a tragedy you know, another plane crashing into a building in New York." Immediately my heart begin beating rapidly, as I pressed the man and sadly he could offer no more information. Slipping into an Internet cafe, I was relieved (if there ever is such a way to be relieved) that it was not as I had imagined, a 747 jumbo and instead ended up being a small prop jet.

And again today, it came crashing back. I heard something briefly about the university killings in the United States last night while playing soccer. But as I pressed for specifics, none were made available.

This morning, as I was running around obtaining my VISA, getting finger printed, the woman doing my finger prints commented about the tragedy. A shame she said, 30 some people killed at this university. We spoke for a minute and I asked her if she knew where it happened. Without a hesitation, she told me: Los Angeles. She had seen the news and thought it was Los Angeles, Chile, but no she said, it turned out to be Los Angeles, USA.

I got panicky, frightened, hoping it could not be LMU. I asked her if she was sure, she replied yes, she was. I left the office in a zone and even trembling a little. Surely someone would have called me if it was LA. Wait, I received a call last night, but I missed it. What if, oh God no, what if was all I could think.

I can´t explain to you what it means to be away from a world that is still your own, living in a world yet to embrace you. You hear things about planes crashing, university shootings, and you run to the nearest Internet cafe, trying desperately to get more information.

And a cruel irony of it all is reading about human tragedy, and knowing, despite what you want to believe, your first instinct is relief. Relief the plane wasn´t bigger, relief it was someone else´s friends and family, someone else´s Alma Mata. I go through these emotions, I realize they are not right, and in a way, it gives me insight into how so many in an affluent country like mine can overlook the genocide in Sudan, the nameless child blown apart in Iraq. Not my family, no in my realm, not my problem. While still untolerable, it becomes easy to understand why this was the most searched news items on Google in 2006...

Google News - Top Searches in 2006
1. paris hilton
2. orlando bloom
3. cancer
4. podcasting
5. hurricane katrina
6. bankruptcy
7. martina hingis
8. autism
9. 2006 nfl draft
10. celebrity big brother 2006

My heart goes out to everyone involved in that shooting. I feel great sadness for the students, the family, the community around Virginia Tech, and even the young man who did it, as well as the Korean or Asian community who will now be targets of misdirected hate and confusion from Virginia to California.

People often ask why we do what we do, this social service. Sometimes the answers are hard to come by. If I did not realize it before, after my time here I realize I won´t change the world. My causes, my ideals, as great as they are, they will never be a chapter to be closed. Poverty will persist, senseless death pass by unnoticed.

But it´s moments like these it becomes clear why I do what I do, what hopefully all of us do in our own small ways: you do good acts when possible, to take a shot at balancing out the many evil or indifferent acts that arise again and again, from here to there. You bear witness to the pain knowing you can´t change it, but by acknowledging it, you do more than so many would ever dare. Yeah, we aren´t going to win, but I´d like to think all God asks of us is the desire to erase hate with love, to come together, different as we are, under that which unites us under one canopy: that which brings us anguish, and the dreams we still dream in spite of it all, in spite of the temptation to turn ideological and hateful.

Again, my heartfelt condolensces to the many victims around our world today.

"Ideologies separate us. Dreams and anguish bring us together." Eugene Ionesco

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Patrick -
It's never easy being so far away when something happens to your fellow Americans. The tragedy at Virginia Tech is unbelievable -- it not only impacted those who were killed, but the thousands of people who somehow touched the lives of those who are now gone. The weekend was very sad because every news story mentioned something about the man who thought it made sense to kill all those people. We are keeping them in our prayers.
Hope all is well. Jodi