Connections

“We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we will all hang separately.” – Benjamin Franklin, 1776

Anything I say regarding what happened yesterday in Boston is going to sound trite and self-serving, and will probably insult someone.

Such is life.

Yesterday, when I posted on Facebook that my family (my parents and my stepdaughter) in Boston had reported in safe and well, I got “Like”s from people I hadn’t heard from in months. This was a comfort. In the face of a very close tragedy, it was a comfort being reminded of all those tendrils I have out to the rest of the country, and the rest of the world.

Social media is great for tendrils, and despite my complaints about advertising and privacy, I am grateful for the computer age and the mechanisms that allow us to touch each other so easily. Some people say it’s dehumanizing, and in some ways I suppose it is. But I would be no more likely to go out and interact with people face-to-face if I didn’t have my computer. Certainly not everyone is like me – I’m an introvert – but in so many ways the Internet has made the world smaller.

But perhaps not small enough.

I am staggered by what happened yesterday. I am horrified that someone would do such a thing. I am relieved that so many people – officials and otherwise – rallied to help. I am incredibly grateful for Twitter and Facebook and the speed with which news travels. I’m also grateful that so few spurious rumors came out – there were some, but in general people were wary about repeating anything that wasn’t directly confirmed by officials at the scene.

Impossible not to think: Three people, just going about their day, no longer here. Many more than that injured, some scarred permanently.

Impossible not to think: Across the planet yesterday – even if I limit it to the roads in the US, or just this state – so many more people lost.

Simple psychology, of course: If it’s close to home, it’s easier to “feel” it. If it’s a deliberate crime, it’s easier to become outraged. If it appears random, it’s easier to feel helpless – so we immediately try to figure out why it was not random. We become tribal, we humans, at the drop of a hat. We are hurt, we are angry, we are scared – and for good reason. But step 2 of all of this is the attack. Who did this to us? What tribe can we turn on for this? We’ve been hit; how do we hit back?

At this point, of course, there hasn’t been much confirmed about this particular crime. But the finger-pointing begins already. I caught one comment on an NPR story asserting it had to be the IRA. And of course the battle between self-described liberals and conservatives continues with its usual shrill irrelevance. So many people pulling together…and almost immediately we turn on each other.

As a general rule, I don’t hold out a lot of hope for the human race. I’m pretty sure what we’ve done to the planet is going to make it uninhabitable for us sooner than we’re ready to handle. But it may not matter. We may not make it that far. We are so angry and defensive and so wedded to the idea of an eye for an eye. Something like this happens – something that makes us feel helpless in our homes, where we should feel safe – and the saber-rattling starts immediately. We are so quick to want to fight back that sometimes we lose sight of who we’re fighting.

And yet…these tendrils. People tweeting and re-tweeting news, photographs, “I am safe” messages. People opening their homes to stranded strangers. Businesses offering free meals, or just places for people to sit and wait.

I am as guilty as anyone of inaction. I can tsk away at headlines with the best of them, and do nothing. It is human nature to address immediate need, to deal with the crisis that is closest. If we tried to reach across the whole world, to fix all of it, every day…we would, every one of us, collapse in grief.

But I wonder. Maybe it’s not just about fixing a crisis. There were waves of kindness yesterday, and I believe they were stronger than the divisiveness and cruelty. Maybe the key to all of this is not waiting for the crisis. Maybe the key is to remember a little more often that we’re all in this together.

This is not some grand Pollyanna call for selflessness; but you know, it’s not that hard to be nice.

I can smile and say thank you when the mail carrier drops packages at my door instead of leaving them in the mailbox. I can ask my co-worker how her vacation was. I can choose to believe that the guy who cut me off in traffic just didn’t see me. I can remember that the people who don’t think like I do are as human as I am, and that however they present themselves I can choose to present myself with compassion, even while disagreeing.

It’s just not that hard. And despite my hardened cynicism, I do believe kindness spreads more persistently than hate.

I suppose I have to believe it, because the reverse is unbearable.