The Greatest Tragedy

EricaHeadshot1Erica Glenn lives in the Boston area where she teaches at Dean College and the Franklin School for the Performing Arts and hangs out with her spunky 84-year-old roommate.  Erica served a mission in Ukraine, received her MM from the Longy School of Music, and will begin a graduate program at Harvard this fall.  Recent adventures include living with Catholic nuns while interning for Broadway composer Charles Strouse, working as a proud Subway Sandwich Artist, having an original musical performed at the New York Musical Theatre Festival, and backpacking across Europe, subsisting solely on Costco peanut butter bars and fruit leather.

No tragedy is more horrifying than violence perpetrated by humans against fellow humans. That any thinking, feeling person could actively wish to maim or kill another is unimaginable–soul-sickening, even. Could there be any greater tragedy than a life purposely cut short?

This past week alone, over 100 people died during attacks at the Iraq provincial election, several children were beaten into a coma at a Russian orphanage, and two Palestinian teenagers were shot dead by the Israeli military. And on Monday, three people were killed (and over 170 were injured) in the Boston Marathon bombing.

In some areas of the world, tragedy strikes so often that it numbs. But here in Boston, the wound was fresh, and the knife sunk deep. We wept. We prayed. We read the stories of suffering citizens and ordinary heroes, and as we did, an unexpected strength rose up in this time of weakness. The internet became a place of widespread communication and healing. Modern technology allowed an entire city to unite, encircled by the supportive embrace of 50 states and countless countries separated by oceans. Boston was the child caught in a crowd of bullies after school, picked up and comforted by older cousins who had already endured years of abuse. Our tears were real. So were theirs. “We all suffer as a result of this human experience,” they seemed to say. “Our suffering teaches us to love.”

In the days following the explosions, unity became our strength. As others reached out to us, we reached back to them. And then something happened: Two supposed terrorists were on the run, and our newly-covered wounds were suddenly fresh and raw again. It was too soon. We watched as helicopters filled the skies and armed policemen lined the streets, and we gave in to the inevitable: fear.

Fear devolves so quickly into hatred. Instead of reaching out, we began curling up inside as areas of the city went into literal and figurative lockdown. Our “patriotism”–recently so inclusive–became divisive, even revengeful. As angry voices grew louder, the largest mosque in New England decided to shut its doors. The second suspect in the bombings was placed in custody, and social media became a fantasy battleground featuring gruesome scenes of imagined violence against this man who people were calling a “worthless piece of meat.” We had sunk to dehumanization–the very process which allows terrorists themselves to kill so senselessly.

And once we begin thinking like terrorists, terror has won.

This week has already seen too many tragedies. Here’s another: Earlier yesterday, a boy the age of my 19-year-old brother was hiding from hundreds of armed militants, alone, and lying in a pool of his own blood. His fellow classmates in Boston described him as “very funny, very sweet, very sociable.” So what went wrong? We know this: Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is responsible for unconscionable acts of violence, and for that, he must and will face justice. But we don’t have all the facts yet. And deep down, don’t we all wish that someone had pled with this boy to look around at the Boston Marathon bystanders and picture the faces of his own loved ones before acting? Don’t we wish that, instead of thirsting for some sort of twisted revenge, this boy had learned to value human life and to properly mourn its loss?

May we, then, have the strength to look at Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and see the face of a brother, a son. May we have the courage to reverence life–no matter whose–and to substitute a desire for revenge with a desire for healing. I repeat: No tragedy is more horrifying than violence perpetrated by humans against their fellow humans. And when violence and revenge become a way of thinking instead of just a series of isolated events, then that is the greatest tragedy of all.

 

18 thoughts on “The Greatest Tragedy

  1. Thank you for sharing these beautiful thoughts, Erica. Yes, hatred only breeds hatred. If we have not yet learned that truth, heaven help us all.

  2. Amen. As a fellow-Bostonite, I have been so proud as we all came together during this horrific time to stand, not just against terror and evil, but together for goodness and peace. And for the most part that feeling has persisted (sadly, in some cases it has not.) But that is the only way we will win against the darkness.

  3. Beautifully said.

    I live in this community as well, and I have been heartened over and over by the cohesiveness of our little city (even in the midst of sheltering in place).

    I think, though, that the vitriol expressed toward the suspect had little to do with his religion, and more to do with the release of all if the stress that had built up over the week. For some, it manifested itself in harsh words for those brothers, yes. But as evidenced by this community, kind hearts will most certainly be restored.

  4. Thanks so much, everyone, for adding your thoughts. And Laura and Jen: I agree! Boston is STRONG, and we’ve seen so much good surface over the past couple of weeks.

  5. Not at all. :-) I use the pronoun “we” here on purpose.

    I experienced such an onslaught of conflicting emotions as I watched last week’s events unfold on my beloved home turf. We’ve all been trying so hard to make sense of things, and the truth is that there *isn’t* much sense in any of it. I do know this much, though: Bitterness has only created more bitterness, and love has paved the way for some truly miraculous events. My prayer is that ALL of us can find the courage to embrace charity so that we can heal together.

  6. Thanks for this post.

    You were judging the haters and that is helpful to remind us what we don’t want to be.

    The Lord surely weeps for his wayward children.

  7. This is beautifully written. I feel profound compassion for that 19-year-old child. And for his dead brother. It is true that perfect love casteth out fear and you have brought that principle home in this post. Thank you for that.

    There is something that concerns me, however. (And you have probably thought of this, so forgive me if this offends, but I’ve seen a lot of it within the church.) When we view this tragedy or others like it, we often prefer to see the perpetrator as a victim in order to relieve our discomfort. We assume that he is like us and that “if only he would have had a different upbringing, etc. . . he would have responded differently.” We want to love the sinner and hate the sin, but sometimes this gets twisted into “the sinner isn’t really a sinner, he’s just another victim”.

    A principle with which fewer people are comfortable involves the idea that evil will have power to bruise our heal, but we have power to crush its head. The crushing is not achieved via loving the perpetrator. Unfortunately, part of our job in mortality is to understand by our own experience the nature of evil. And to summon the strength, courage and faith to look a 19-year-old child (and murderer) in the face and administer justice. It’s true: we may not know and cannot judge his motivation or what moved him to this act of destruction. But we can and must judge his behavior.

    I think your post is perfect and true. I feel there is great good in the world. Like you, I agree that hatred and fear are among our greatest enemies. In our love of peace, light and truth we must also STOP the haters – with force equal to their force. And we do not need to fear becoming like them. We have great examples of this: Jesus in the desert and when responding to hypocrites; Moses on the mount; Captain Moroni (Alma 48:17, Alam 51:14) and others.

    Thank you again for a beautiful post. And for allowing me to express some of my own feelings about this wonderful, terribll world. My brother is a professor at MIT. There were moments when I feared for his life. My heart is wrenched by what he, you and other Bostonians have just endured. God bless you.

  8. Melody: Thank you for this! You’ve given me some great ideas to chew on (and I do love to chew). :-)

    I’m so grateful that justice and mercy aren’t mutually exclusive and that Christ’s intercession allows the two to coexist. We know that the offspring of Eve (Christ, specifically) holds the power to crush the serpent’s head. We can only crush evil *through* Christ, then, which means that love must be present in the equation. A parent doesn’t have to stop loving a child in order to make that child face the consequences of poor choices. I think we can execute justice without hating or condemning anyone in our hearts. (I’m thankful, too, that the actual administration of criminal justice usually falls outside our personal jurisdiction. We get to focus on the “loving” part and leave the rest to higher powers.)

    Because of His profound love for us, even God mourns when he has to execute judgment on the wicked (“How oft would I have gathered you. . .but ye would not?”). The ultimate demise of a human being may represent “evil” (as an abstract concept) being partially crushed, but it also represents a child of God gone tragically wrong. And although the punishment is “just” and “right,” it is also a cause for mourning. (There’s nothing sadder than divine potential squandered by 19–the age of the young people that our church sends into the world to begin discovering the depth and breadth of that potential.)

    Thank you, again, for responding so thoughtfully to my post! Thank you, too, for your support and prayers. We feel them here in Boston!

  9. Just ran across an interesting quote on lds.org and thought I’d share (since the topic of “judging” has surfaced here):

    “There are two kinds of judging: final judgments, which we are forbidden to make, and intermediate judgments, which we are directed to make. On one occasion the Savior chided the people, ‘Why even of yourselves judge ye not what is right?’ [Intermediate] judgments are essential to the exercise of personal moral agency.” –Dallin H. Oaks

  10. These thoughts are exactly how I felt days after the event in Boston…but I kept it to myself because no one would understand it. I’m not very articulate thinking quick on my feet. It is usually after the fact taht I have thoughts I wished I had uttered. thank you.

  11. Thank you for your thoughts. I have felt similarly conflicted feelings since this most recent tragedy. I don’t think that compassion can ever be counted as weakness.

  12. Erica- once again, beautifully expressed in your response to my comment. You expanded on what I was trying to say. Yes, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is our brother and any true follower of Christ mourns the loss of one of our eternal familly. We are incabable of making anything like a final judgement and the quote from Elder Oaks sums it up nicely.

  13. Melody, thank you for the beautiful tone of your comment. This is the kind of measured, thoughtful, respectful rhetoric that lends itself to a discussion where the fruit is not contention but greater mutual understanding.

    I don’t think the poster would disagree with the point you make. She wrote, after all:

    “We know this: Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is responsible for unconscionable acts of violence, and for that, he must and will face justice.”

    Yes, in cases like this, justice must be served. But there can still be compassion in our hearts. I think what the poster was reacting to was the volley of hateful, mean-spirited things that were posted on social media following the arrest of the younger brother–calls for his disembowelment, characterizations of him as “a worthless piece of meat,” etc.

    As Tamra said above, hatred only breeds more hatred. Only light can conquer darkness.

  14. This was an incredibly thoughtful post. Thank you.

    I think sometimes justice in our doctrine is misunderstood as not being loving. God allows us to experience natural consequences so we can learn from our experience. But I think justice in the world is so often more about revenge than love.

    I don’t think that seeing someone as a victim or as someone in need and wanting them to learn from experience (and taking action toward that end) are mutually exclusive. (Another talk of Elder Oaks’ that I think is relevant is his talk on love and law.)

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