It is terribly easy to get overwhelmed with numbers…and we hear so many of them in the news.
In Paris, 129 killed and another 350 injured…the plane apparently brought down by a bomb in Egypt, killing 224…at least 46 killed in two bomb attacks in Nigeria, with another 120 injured…41 killed and over 200 wounded in Lebanon…and it seems to go on and on.
They are just numbers. We may shudder at them…and we may worry if it touches too close to home…but they are abstract numbers. That is, until we are directly touched.
I have not been directly touched by these recent events, but I have been touched by a tragedy that has changed these numbers from abstractions to realities. A friend of mine was killed yesterday in a tragic accident while he was walking his dog. He was doing a normal, everyday activity–as were so many of the people involved in these terrorist attacks. There was no inkling that he would go out and not come home safely.
And it helped me realize–each one of these numbers represents a unique individual. Each one has someone who is in mourning…who now has a hole in their heart that will never totally close. Each one counts.
And yes, that means even the ones who initiated the attacks. They also have families. Some of those families might have had an idea of what their loved one was up to…but others did not. And even if they knew, that doesn’t mean that there is not a sense of loss.
We hear so many numbers, and because we do, we can shut ourselves off from them. We can consider them only as abstractions, or we can realize they are just like us. They are people who loved…who were often doing their best to make the world a better place…who were artists, business people, athletes…adults, children…
We also hear other numbers–of people who are trying to find places to live to avoid these terrors. And those numbers are mind-numbing.
We see pictures–and while the pictures may tug at our hearts, we shut ourselves down…out of fear. Justified fear? Perhaps…in a small way.
We can seem them as “other”…not understandable, and so we don’t even try. We fear who they might be…what they might bring to us. And so we turn them away.
We’ve been there before.
In June 1939, a German ship anchored so close to Florida that they could see the Miami lights. There were 900 people on board, seeking refuge from terror, but they were turned away…and many of them died in concentration camps. We were afraid…afraid of losing jobs…afraid that some of them might by Nazi spies.
In 1942, President Roosevelt signed an order requiring all Japanese Americans to be interned for the duration of the war…even those who had fought for the United States during the previous war. Again, we were afraid…afraid of espionage…afraid they might be a fifth column.
We look at pictures of people…people who have been terrorized and victimized, whether in the attacks identified above, or whether they are among those fleeing countries where those attacks are more prevalent than they have been for many of us. And we fear again…
There are valid concerns. I understand that. But I also look at the eyes of the children who are haunted by what they have experienced. I look at the eyes of the parents who want nothing more than a place where they can bring up their children in hope.
And I am reminded of what we can be and do in our better moments.
“The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles.
From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“”Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!”” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”