I was going to write a whole post about how depressed I’m feeling today, that I was struggling at work, wondering if I need to give up Talmud shiur (class) because it leaves me too drained, wondering if I’m doing my job properly and well, wondering if I’m too depressed to think of dating again… then I got thrust back into the news from Las Vegas, which I’ve been aware of since waking up this morning. I pushed it out of my mind at work, although it drifted back a bit during the day (the library subscribes to a news service for teenagers which we print out and put in a stand on the issue desk and it was all about the shooting and gun control today), but then on the way home all the newspapers people were reading on the train were full of it and the six o’clock news on Radio 4. I had to turn the news off because it was too upsetting.
I’m not sure what to feel. I feel bad, but I’ve been feeling bad all day, because of my own personal reasons. What should one feel about something happening on the other side of the world to people one has never met? And why is this in my head (and in the media) more than Mexico or Syria or Burma or a hundred other things?
Some of the Hevrians wrote a response. I wanted to write a comment there, but it sounded cheap and show-offey. Likewise, I’m trying not to make this about me, but it keeps slipping back to whether I think I’m a bad person for not reacting in the way I would like myself to react (whatever that is).
I’ve noticed that the secular West has evolved a series of rituals for dealing with national tragedy now it can no longer use traditional religious ones (I think it started around the time Princess Diana died): the flowers, the eulogies, the reprinted poor-definition photos, the sending of “thoughts and prayers” (but how do you send prayers if you don’t believe in God any more?), the vague statements about the dead being at rest, the opprobrium heaped on the villain, if there is one, the resolve to “solve” whatever problem has caused this mess, quickly shelved when the political deadlock over what solution will work becomes clear. But nothing about meaning or the fragility of human existence, the heartland of religion.
We Jews have just done the fragility of human existence, we’ve done Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and the Unataneh Tokef prayer. Who will live and who will die. The starkness of it. The inscrutability of the future. The attempt to find meaning in something that defies meaning (death). Does that help? No, not really. Or maybe yes and no. Yes, that we have our own rituals and theodicies. No, that it can’t bring anyone back or explain the inexplicable, why someone would want to murder a bunch of people he never even met, apparently without even an ideological motive or hatred behind it. In the end, the only meaningful response is to turn back outwards, to life, to meaning, to purpose, however brutal that seems.