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Humanist Essay for April 2013
"How Does That Make You Feel?"
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[Normally I reprint my HSNM Newsletter essay in this space, but since that has to do with organizational matters this month, I was casting around for something new for April. Little did I expect that inspiration would strike in the form of two deadly bomb blasts in Boston.]

We have had some devastating, senseless attacks in this young century, leaving scars and heartaches that some of our fellow citizens will bear for the rest of their days. From two thousand miles away, the Boston bombings hit close to home for me, my thirty years absence from the scene blown away like so much Albuquerque dust on a windy April day. In a flash I am back on that very block of Boylson St. picking up a coffee on the way to my job at the art supply store up the street. Memories of my seven years in and around the Back Bay wash over me, and my mind can't help inserting an explosion into each that will tear apart limbs and future dreams in an instant. I weep, but I will regain my equilibrium. What is a bad dream for me is all too real, all too permanent for all too many others.

The reporters ask: What did you see? What did you hear? Where were you when...? What were you doing? How does it make you feel...? They exchange stories with each other of where they were themselves, or their family members or friends - how close they were to being "right there" - that is, how near they were to being victims themselves. By the luck of the draw, they came through unscathed. How does that make you feel?

I feel sick of heart over the event itself as well as from its reminder that bombings are a common occurrence in many places, that brutal inhumanity - both by violent force and quiet, calculated political/financial maneuvering - have already branded an age that could and should be one of unmatched promise and prosperity. Where did we go so wrong?

My sensitivity to the pervasive, global violence that Americans have insulated themselves against - or tried to - has been heightened by working with Don Gutierrez on his book Feeling the Unthinkable: Essays on Social Justice in which he details such inhumane practices as the waging of war, economic policies that punish the poor, and excessively harsh incarceration. The institutional brutality of governments - all too often our own - on a daily basis dwarfs the savagery of these few headline-making malcontents in scale and scope. Intellectually, we can rationalize and distance ourselves from such "necessities" as drone strikes, border fences, water-boardings and solitary confinement, but Don asks us to feel it - to feel compassion, to feel remorse, to feel moved to act against injustice and inhumanity no matter where or how or with whom it originates, no matter whose children are in the line of fire.

The unthinkable has come to our shores. It visits with increasing frequency and frightening randomness. How does it make you feel? If you too feel sad and broken, vaguely guilty and terribly vulnerable, then the next question must be: What are we going to do about it?

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Copyright © 2013 Zelda Gatuskin

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