Saturday was extremely difficult for so many people here in Pittsburgh. On a chilly, damp morning in Squirrel Hill, an angry man killed 11 Jewish folks and injured several others as they celebrated Sabbath-day services.
I’m sure that, for most people who live far away, it was simply the latest in a series of mass shootings plaguing our country. I know I’ve sometimes been guilty of noting such horrors elsewhere, but not allowing them to fully affect me emotionally.
Sure, I get ticked off about this modern American environment — legal, political, philosophical, spiritual — that can produce mass murder after mass murder. But what good can I do if I’m reduced to a blubbering, raging mess for every one of these tragedies, right? At least that’s what I tell myself.
There’s something about physical proximity, though, that makes us snap to attention.
Now, we’re not Jewish. The Tree of Life congregation is a 20-minute drive from our house, not exactly down the street. But this was plenty close enough to have direct implications on people your Mom and I care about.
One of those is your former sitter, Lily, whom you got to know quite well — and loved — over your first two years. We knew she lived in Squirrel Hill, but we didn’t know which synagogue she attended. She’s devout in her Jewish faith, so we knew she wouldn’t be answering her phone on the Sabbath, which doesn’t end until sundown Saturday.
Lily turned out to be safe, and just as shocked by the news as we were when she found out at dusk. You’re too young now to understand the anguish we felt waiting to hear back from her. By the time you read this, you still might not understand the way your brain prepares itself for the ultimate sadness while still hanging onto hope.
That’s the thing about being human: We can try to empathize as much as possible, but some things simply must be experienced to be grasped.
One of those opportunities rang in my head as Saturday’s details came out.
This summer, your Mom and I took a trip to Europe, a 10-day journey across the middle of the continent. Poland was on the itinerary, so we felt compelled to spend a day at the Auschwitz concentration camp museum.
As news reports revealed that the Squirrel Hill murderer told police that “all Jews must die,” I was back on that late-August walk through the prisoners’ barracks at Auschwitz. Back in that narrow hallway lined with black-and-white photos of the men and women forced into captivity.
For the majority of those innocent folks, that camera flash was a death sentence.
In this hallway, painted a dull gray, we could look these people right in the eye. I tried to imagine what they felt like in the moment the shutter snapped. Then I tried not to imagine.
I’d read plenty about World War II, watched hours of documentaries and online clips. None of it had nearly the impact of actually being there.
I’d read plenty about mass shootings, too. Watched hours of news coverage and debates on ‘what it all means.’ None of it came close to instilling the fear that someone you know well could’ve had her life cut short.
I don’t know why we’re wired the way we are, to compartmentalize events that don’t directly affect us. Maybe because we couldn’t possibly endure having a powerful reaction to every awful thing we hear about. I don’t know, bud.
What I do know is that none of us have the privilege of complacency. In a way, all of this reminded me why we started Do-Goodery, to provide some outlet, some avenue where we could feel like we were helping the current state of affairs, however you want to define it.
Maybe our most effective act of defiance against dark forces is this: To take a miserable weekend like this one and use it as fuel to build each other up.
I just hope it doesn’t take more days like Saturday to compel more people to wake up and help. Our backyard could be anyone’s backyard.
Love you so much,
Calories burned (active): 846
Minutes exercised: 90
Hours stood: 14
Steps taken: 6,144
Physical activity: Full-body strength workout, plus hill runs*
*Some days, the only place where life makes some sense is in the gym.