Hierarchy of Sorrow: Boston, Delhi, Damascus

Syria (Photo credit: ewixx)


Last week from a sofa in a hospital room, after having delivered our second baby boy, I woke up at 1 a.m. Adrenaline or jetlag like false sense of sleep saturation had me reaching for my phone in the pitch black of the room. Across the coffee table, a good friend who had volunteered for night duty was resting. The baby was in the nursery. I went on Facebook.


The news feed of many of American friends, at home and abroad, was filled with the news of the bombing at the finish line of the Boston marathon. I couldn’t believe my eyes at the photos and had to turn off the phone to stem off the hormonal induced shock at the images, facts, and sounds.


As the facts unfolded – 3 dead, many more wounded – a puzzled reaction swept the part of the world I live in, the Middle East.


What about people in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, was the question circulating on Twitter, Facebook, and the blogosphere. Where is the empathy, shock, horror, concern for them?


A former student and now friend posted “I’m sorry to hear about Boston, sorry for all the casualties. Pray for Syria, it deserves far more sympathy. Pray for Syria twice as much!”.


Having studied Arabic in Damascus a few years ago, I have been watching the escalating tensions there with dread and anger at a “leader” who would treat his people as pawns.


But the assertion of my student made me uncomfortable.


Can we weigh on a scale those who are more deserving of empathy? Is it judged by the number of causalities?


Or, as mainstream American media seems to suggest, do we rate based on a scale of how the tragedies happen? Are civilians in peace time, running a marathon or going to work, more deserving than those who are living in a country entrenched in civil war?


I don’t know. I do know from my hospital bed, recovering from having a baby, that most frail and dependent of creatures, the symbol of all that is possible of humanity, I resisted the notion that my loyalties predict my sympathies and said as much to my friend on his wall:


“I understand what you are trying to say but let’s remember our hearts can juggle compassion for all. Clearly the media, government and politics cannot. I stand with Syrians as the land where I learned Arabic and hope that governments will stop turning blind eyes. Sympathy is not a competition. The more we learn that, the more we can come together as one. (not intending to lecture, your post did strike a chord with me as a new mother X2 from this past Sunday). I want my children to live in a compassionate world, better than the bi-partisan one I inherited. Now we pray for Iran, regardless of how we feel about nukes/presidents/etc.”


We had a great discussion (yes on Facebook wall posts as he was abroad).


Later in the week the question came again on Twitter: “Boston boston. Pls send your view: rape in Delhi why again and again?”


The commenter was talking about the rape of a 5 year old girl whose body had been dumped in a dumpster and found with foreign objects, including a candle, inside. I had read of the case with horror and posted about it on social media as well. As an Indian woman, mother, wife, and daughter, I was ashamed, distraught, and troubled by not only this incident but all of them since the watershed December case with a pharmacy student on a bus. Indian media commentators were asking: why did we care so much about her? What about the 5, 6, 10 year olds (and the ones we never know about about)? Don’t we care about them?


All of which brings me back to the same question: how much room do we have in our hearts? Can we only care for those who know immediately? Or is there some larger, universal ability to feel compassion that comes with our “advanced” technologies in the era of 24 hour media?


I do know when I saw the photo of the 19 year old, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the remaining bomb plotter, my heart clenched. Somewhere, something went horribly wrong for this younger brother. I couldn’t help but think of my own boys, presently 2.5 and 1 week old. What would they grow up to do? Would the older one mislead the younger? And could the younger use this as his excuse for wrecking havoc?

In the end, it all comes down to relationships. Right?




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Reader Comments

  1. Jaya

    first, congratulations on the birth of your new baby.

    second, tragedies are tragedies only based on the impact they have on our own heart.. somebody’s father dying in a car accident and my son breaking his leg in a bicycle accident are not comparable.

    forgive the callousness, but people in Syria live their daily horrors, people in America live theirs, people in new delhi live theirs. . it is just the fact that social media is more free in the USA that triggers the news agencies to report and sensationalize news that will profit them more.

    i do not understand the outrage in the tweets.. does reality become news only when reuters reports it? or, are people so detached from proper news sources that they hear news only when twitter trendifies a topic?

    it is really easy to get lost in the heartfelt passionate rants of each and every person you know on twitter, fb, etc.. but my two cents to you, new mother, is to accept the fact that your reality is is not their reality. you are a postpartum woman, and with the extra ( hormonal)sensitivity that comes from being a new mom, these depressing news will be harmful to you.

    my mother used to say that new mums should not read the newspaper.. and i agree. these few days are precious. let the world live its reality for a few days, yet may your reality be peaceful, wrapped up in rest and snuggling and everything that comes from being the mom of two boys 😉

  2. Mohana

    Yes, I know that maybe I’m more contemplative than normal. But these questions persist every day here so they must be asked. I totally take your point that life is about perspective and each of us sees our horrors from our own advantage point.

  3. Falguni Kothari

    Congratulations on your baby boy!

    Now to comment on the hierarchy of sorrow…I don’t think the media means to highlight one tragedy over another, I think it happens due to circumstance. Maybe even ease of gathering information and broadcasting it. Empathy and compassion is universal even if its not so easily displayed universally.

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