In the last 24 hours, my Facebook and Twitter feeds have been rich with posts on three separate historical events. The first is the tragic bombing at the Boston marathon yesterday. The second is the anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail.” And the third is the anniversary of Israel’s declaration of independence.
While I am not normally prone to tears, all three made me cry today.
The first chink in my armor came from the myriad postings about the 65th anniversary of Israel’s independence. I find this a difficult moment to “celebrate” because 46 of those 65 years have been overshadowed by the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the domination and destruction of Palestinian lives and livelihoods. Alas, too few Americans (Jewish or otherwise) really seem to care. Worse, the American Jewish community has suffered a terrible kind of gaslighting, wherein our identity has been confused and conflated with that of the Jews of Israel, our co-religionists but not for the most part our co-citizens. All of this made me sad.
Then, hearing the amazing recording of King reading his “letter” from 1963, I found myself even more mournful: at the loss of King, but also at the seeming loss of moral courage in our society. Who among us today has the combined strengths of conviction, poetics, and oratory? In a nation where political considerations override human lives in debates about everything from guns to healthcare, where a president who has the poetics and oratory seems to lack the conviction to stare down a government program of assassination or to push firmly for the rights and freedoms of the oppressed around the world (c.f., Palestinians), what is there to do but cry?
Run, of course. The answer is to run in a marathon, an experience that I can only imagine must be fundamentally life-affirming. Except that this year, it was anything but that. And so I cried, several times today, as I listened to and read news reports of the young boy who was killed, and the young wounded woman seeking out the man who helped her, and the many others hurt, and the many more searching for ways to help. That the tragedy of the Boston marathon also has such a life-affirming feeling to it should not be lost. But it is also hard to ignore the broader context of terrorism in America, from Oklahoma City to New York City, while recalling too how fortunate we are in comparison to some (e.g., Iraq, Syria). And hard to ignore the broader context of all the ways in which we inflict harm on ourselves and our moral standing by failing to promote peace and freedom, failing to stick up for the poor and oppressed both at home and abroad, and the very poor ways in which we handle the grievances we stir up around the world.
For anyone following the news, it’s been a long day. So let’s end this day, and try to work harder for peace tomorrow.