Vicarious sadness

About eight months ago, a gentleman with the same first and last name as mine started using gmail. Not a big deal except that the difference between our gmail addresses is fairly small and hard to notice. So every once in a while, I receive email intended for him and I’ll point that person in the right direction. Beyond that, my only real contact with him has been some minimal email communication, usually after I’ve pointed someone new his way.

Over the weekend, he lost his daughter in an accident and I am surprised at how much it’s affected me. Here is this person that I barely know, we have nothing in common but a name and yet, I am genuinely saddened by his grief. I’m sure it doesn’t help that a number of people have sent him misdirected condolence messages. At the same time, I am reminded that millions of people die every year around the world.

The grief that my namesake feels is felt by millions of people every day, but we are largely blind to it. A hundred thousand civilians die in Iraq each year and again, without a connection to the individuals, it’s just a number. A thousand US troops die each year and we start to feel a little connection to them and their families – a little compassion, a little vicarious sadness for their loss.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to feel personally saddened by every death that happens around the world – it would drive me crazy. At the same time, we should realize that every death causes someone, somewhere to be distraught. Every time we kill or allow someone to be killed, a family is devastated.

2 Comments

  1. BJ said,

    February 16, 2008 @ 10:25 pm

    The thread of your comments is eerily similar to a conversation I had Friday. We were discussing the heaviness we feel when relatives, friends and acquaintances are suffering with illness, death or impending death.

    My own musings were certainly driven by the angst I feel over my cousin’s recently diagnosed, but rapidly growing, abdominal cancer–a woman who has experienced the daily reminder of lost dreams as she has cared faithfully for her severely brain-damaged daughter.

    But sadness was a road I was already traveling following the three funerals I attended in a six day period of time. Only one was the funeral of a personal friend. The other two were funerals of my friends’ loved ones. And still I felt the sadness. Not just for them, but for the entire human race that faces repeated waves of loss.

    And it doesn’t seem to be getting much better out there. Two innocent young women shot in a nursing classroom in Baton Rouge. Two women who left behind a collective five children, not to mention husband, fiance, mothers, sisters and friends. Then there was the grief expressed by the family of the woman who fired the shots before killing herself. For them the compounded grief of loss and remorse.

    Then came the shooting rampage in Illinois. Although the closest tie I have to any of the victims is the inconsequential fact that I attended college not far from there, I grieved with the families, the friends, the peers of those slain.

    I am reminded we are to weep with those who weep. Not to enter into their suffering would be to deny the kinship of our shared humanity. How to enter in and not be overwhelmed, how to grieve and not be swallowed up in grief, and how to tremble with sadness while offering a steady hand to those more closely affected, is the challenge.

  2. BJ said,

    February 16, 2008 @ 10:25 pm

    The thread of your comments is eerily similar to a conversation I had Friday. We were discussing the heaviness we feel when relatives, friends and acquaintances are suffering with illness, death or impending death.

    My own musings were certainly driven by the angst I feel over my cousin’s recently diagnosed, but rapidly growing, abdominal cancer–a woman who has experienced the daily reminder of lost dreams as she has cared faithfully for her severely brain-damaged daughter.

    But sadness was a road I was already traveling following the three funerals I attended in a six day period of time. Only one was the funeral of a personal friend. The other two were funerals of my friends’ loved ones. And still I felt the sadness. Not just for them, but for the entire human race that faces repeated waves of loss.

    And it doesn’t seem to be getting much better out there. Two innocent young women shot in a nursing classroom in Baton Rouge. Two women who left behind a collective five children, not to mention husband, fiance, mothers, sisters and friends. Then there was the grief expressed by the family of the woman who fired the shots before killing herself. For them the compounded grief of loss and remorse.

    Then came the shooting rampage in Illinois. Although the closest tie I have to any of the victims is the inconsequential fact that I attended college not far from there, I grieved with the families, the friends, the peers of those slain.

    I am reminded we are to weep with those who weep. Not to enter into their suffering would be to deny the kinship of our shared humanity. How to enter in and not be overwhelmed, how to grieve and not be swallowed up in grief, and how to tremble with sadness while offering a steady hand to those more closely affected, is the challenge.

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