I was worried in general about what the repercussions might be. Then I was worried very specifically: I have a nephew who is in the military.
Right now, he is stationed at Fort Drum at the northern border of New York State. Recently, I learned that many soldiers in his group were being deployed to the Middle East — but my nephew was needed at Fort Drum, so he was staying behind. At least, that was the case a few weeks ago.
Now, with this recent development, I was not so sure. I wondered whether he would be added to the group headed for the Middle East.
I anxiously called my brother to find out. My brother informed me that Ryan — my nephew — was still going to be stationed at Fort Drum. No change in plans.
I was relieved. I have gone back to following the news, but not with such intensity.
Then there was the horrible car crash on Ohio 2 last Friday. An elderly man died in a head-on crash after he drove the wrong way on the Edison Bridge. The teenage passengers in the car he hit were taken to the hospital.
I didn’t think much about it until I found out a few days later that the teenage passenger in the car he hit was a former student of mine — a very sweet and talented young lady. I panicked until I was told that she is going to be OK.
Then there was the experience I had when, over the summer, there was an attack in Dayton and I was worried that my daughter might have been there. I called her to make sure she was okay. I was in Chile at the time. When I found out she wasn’t in the crowd being shot at — in fact, she was safely at her home — I cared a lot less intensely about what had happened in Dayton, even though nine people were killed for no reason.
I think it must be normal — caring more about the victims when we know them personally. But why? What about caring intensely about all human beings, whether we know them or not? About all of our soldiers who are in harm’s way? What about feeling sad for all the people killed in needless car crashes? And the victims of mass shootings – even the ones we don’t know, in cities we have never seen? Shouldn’t we feel painfully sad for all of them?
As John Donne wrote in the 1600s, “No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main … any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.”
Maybe so, but it is hard to be emotional about anonymous, faceless people — even a lot of them.
The world has become a very small place, from attacks in Iraq to the food we eat that is grown in faraway places.
Recently while grocery shopping, I bought a bag of grapefruit. Why? The bag said they were “Texas grapefruits.” I felt that buying those grapefruits somehow brought me closer to Texas, where I have three grandsons.
Similarly, I recently bought blueberries at a decent price, and was thrilled when I took them home and the package said that they were imported from Chile. From Chile! That’s where my daughter, her husband and their son (my grandson) live. Illogically, eating those blueberries with my oatmeal made me feel closer to them.
Sounds silly, but there are things that connect us to people and places that don’t make a lot of sense. Our gut reaction to tragedy in the news is, sadly, needing to know if any of the victims were people we know. It’s human nature to care more about tragedy when it involves those we are close to. But shouldn’t we also care deeply about humans we have never met?
Debbie Leffler is a freelance writer who lives in Norwalk. She can be reached at [email protected]