When I began blogging, I couldn’t have imagined I’d be writing one post-massacre story, let alone two. Yet here I am, just six months after publishing the first, expressing my feelings (or lack thereof) following a mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. And my feelings are pretty much the same as they were back then. The victims were Jewish. I am Jewish. Yet I am not grieving.
I am not a well-informed individual.
I catch the news very rarely. I’d like to say it’s because I’m sensitive and just can’t handle it, but that’s not why.
For whatever reason, I’ve always found it really, really hard to follow current affairs. (My mother used to say it’s because I’m not interested but I don’t think it’s quite that simple.) Anyway, this struggle used to leave me feeling stupid. To avoid feeling stupid, I gave up the struggle.
Consequently, it’s often not until someone brings a news headline to my attention that I’m even aware of it. Such was the case on Saturday morning. “A gunman killed 11 people in a synagogue in Pittsburgh,” my husband said. I felt nothing. I was unmoved.
“I feel guilty for not following the news, but why do I need to know this?” I said. “How does this serve me?”
A pretty selfish response, I will fully admit, but that’s what immediately came to mind. I understand we have a civic duty to be informed. I do not try to justify my ignorance, even if, at times like this, it might feel like bliss. But in circumstances like this, in which I am completely powerless, I just wonder — what’s the point?
I am not grieving.
I know we’re living in a world gone mad. So where exactly is the news in this news? I would like to feel shocked, but I’m not. I am clearly desensitized.
Yesterday I heard Trump say that the congregation might have fared better if they’d had protection inside their temple. I don’t doubt he was implying they should have had guns. Really?
I live in Canada. I don’t have a say in whether Trump stays or go. I watched the footage and now I can’t undo that. But how has it served me? (Again with the selfishness.) It’s like watching a car crash. What’s the point if you’re not going to call 911 or try to help the injured?
In my post about the Toronto van attack, I expressed that “while, yes, the tragedy happened in my city, it doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to the victims…”
Members of my Toronto tribe were killed in April’s attack, and I felt empty. Members of my Jewish tribe were killed in the Pittsburgh attack, and I feel empty. I’m starting to wonder if there’s more to this than met the eye last time I pondered my numbness in the face of tragedy.
I wonder, is there such a thing as non-survivor’s guilt? Maybe you’ve experienced it yourself.
I was born in 1966 so I didn’t survive WWII. But when I was young, I heard so many first-hand accounts from people near and dear to me that I sometimes felt as if I’d narrowly escaped persecution myself.
My father told us about his time in the Jewish ghetto and how his father would bring him food via the sewers. My grandmother told us how an SS officer turned a blind eye as she backed her way out of a line that would have marched her to her death. My great uncle told us how two of his sisters had once stood naked before Josef Mengel (the angel of death) in Auschwitz.
They all survived. They were survivors. But the fact is, I am not. Maybe that’s why I’m not grieving. I have never been persecuted. In the face of so many who have, that can be a heavy burden to bear. One similar, I imagine, to say, raising a family of beautiful, healthy children in front of a sibling who lost her only child. At what point might you want to stop spending time with that sibling because the guilt of not having suffered as he or she did becomes too much?
As I write this it dawns on me that perhaps I am subconsciously disassociating myself from my various tribes so that I don’t have to deal with more non-survivor guilt. Yes, I’m a Torontonian but I was not persecuted. Sorry. Yes, I’m a Jew but I was not persecuted. Sorry.
A life is a life is a life.
That’s what I wrote in my Toronto van attack post. That, and, “the lives of those in my fair city are as sacred as the lives of those everywhere else.” I stand by these words.
However, I’m beginning to think they were inspired not only by my genuine love for humanity but also by my need for self-preservation. Because I am a non-survivor, unlike the 11 victims of the Pittsburgh shooting.
May those whose lives were taken — Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax, Irving Younger — rest in peace. And may those who knew them, loved them, shared a community with them, and survived them, find the strength to carry on.
Viv for today xo
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