When bad things happen, I do not believe in asking why. To ask why implies there could be a reason, and to imply a reason is to insinuate a justification.
There is no logic to tragedy, no moral to a story of random violence, no lesson learned from witnessing evil.
How cunning life is, though. It forces us to confront events devoid of upside, and then uses those same events to inspire acts of pure goodness. It guides us to the other side of a two-faced mirror, showing us that the most promising antidote to terror is to fix our gaze just on the other side of it.
Bad things come in packages large and small, captioned as mass destruction and minor setbacks, scaled as global and personal. No matter the dimension, we look somewhere for reassurance that things will be OK, that we shall overcome, that we’ll be able to keep up as life goes on. Be it faith, or family, or friends, there is some external source of support that acts as the counterpoint to our point of nearly no return.
Life is perhaps most beautiful, however, when it affords strangers the opportunity to rise to the occasion, and they do. When a person acts not out of obligation, or guilt, or association, but because his basic humanity compels him to, we see that the power of decency can rival the aggression of cowardice or the dictates of fate.
One year ago this month, a disturbed young man walked into a Connecticut elementary school, looked young children in the face, and shot them dead. Despite all the ink spilled in attempts to give meaning to that horror, the dictionary cannot provide the words for a cry that uniformly rallies us. No sentence will ever summarize what it means to live in a country that cannot promise us, at least, that our children will come home to us at the end of the school day.
There are other articles about Newtown, and other topics trending on Twitter, that begin to speak to another truth. The town has been so overrun with donations of all kinds that committees have been formed to manage them, and requests for donors to hold off have been issued. Tweets are hash-tagged with “#26Acts” to share with a virtual audience motivational – albeit random – acts of kindness, from buying coffee for the next customer in line to bringing a neighbor’s trash cans in from the curb. Paying it forward to move forward.
Two months ago, a little boy was born to a local couple. Soon after arriving home from the hospital, he went into clear signs of distress, and he has not been home since. Complete organ failure and one liver transplant later, he now smiles from behind the tubes and protests when his bottle is taken away. Still, he cannot leave the shadow of the Boston Children’s Hospital.
One of this baby’s aunts took to Facebook, posting a link to a fundraising website. In less than one day, nearly $25,000 was donated to his medical care. The money came in from his parents’ former classmates and current co-workers, their Facebook friends and friends-of-friends, and most likely even strangers. Prayers were being sent up from across denominations, cheers were being raised in numerous accents, and fingers were being crossed in climates warm and cold.
In my last column, I wrote about the Rwandan family I’ve come to know over the past year. I wrote about their triumphs, but also their struggles. I alluded to the inadequacies of their housing and the challenges of their finances.
This past weekend, I received an email from a man I do not know. He referenced the column and my remark about the father’s bike having been stolen. He asked me if he could buy a replacement bike, and “a BIG lock” for it. He told me he’d send a check for the amount, as he could not deliver the purchase himself.
Because he, like the man he wants to help, does not have a car.
Bad things can happen. Good things can follow. Strangers can be kind. Kindness can be revolutionary.