You may know that I live in Brooklyn, that I live in south Brooklyn. My neighborhood has probably been in your news today because I live in Sunset Park, the neighborhood that was the site of the subway shooting during this morning’s rush hour.
I wasn’t there, and I’m totally fine. My train stop is one away from the stop that is captured in all the videos and photos. I am in that station all the time, of course, because it’s on my way to work, on my way home. Sometimes I transfer trains there.
This morning I went to work late. I often try to avoid the height of rush hour if I can. Too many people, and too many of them without masks these days. So I was behind the violence this morning, got stuck not being able to move forward and no idea why. Transit staff told us there was a “smoke condition” at 36th Street, which was true as far as it went. When I got back to the street, I contemplated the bus, but a brief chat with a woman at the bus stop told me that no trains were running at 36th Street, and the only buses in the opposite direction were out of service.
I stood in the rain a while, then decided my best option was to declare today a work-from-home day. And I fully acknowledged and appreciated that I have the privilege to do that when many many people do not.
So I walked home, and that’s when I found out what had caused the “smoke condition” that frustrated my commute.
I’m devastated by the shooting on the subway. How could I not be? Violence like this is always horrifying and devastating. And being trapped in a subway car with someone bent on killing you … I mean, it’s the worst iteration of a fish-in-a-barrel scenario.
I am heartened by the news that none of the injuries are life-threatening. I’m also heartened by the news that there is at least a “person of interest” in the case. But that comes along with the awful awareness that the shooter is still at large.
When I was washing dishes tonight, I realized something that this incident has to mean for me. I’ve written about disturbing and frightening encounters I’ve had with strangers. And each time I’ve thought not only about my own feelings, my own safety. I’ve tried to have empathy for the other person in the story.
So isn’t today the real test? Can I have empathy for the man who attacked the people on the N train today? I think I’m failing here … and I’m not feeling inclined to try not to fail. I can have empathy for people with untreated mental illness, but I’m not ready to paint today’s shooter with that brush. We don’t know anything about him. Yes, I can decide that anyone who would commit such a heinous act must be mentally ill … but I don’t actually believe that. I think mental illness gets a bad rap, gets blamed for all sorts of things for which it’s not responsible.
But this is still the test, isn’t it? Tonight, I re-watched the “Empathic Civilization” video that I first saw 10 years ago that got me thinking in a very intentional way about empathy. I can acknowledge that man’s humanity. I can acknowledge his anger, his pain. But empathize with him? Why would I want to?
The purpose of empathy is to help us understand how other people feel. Having that ability to understand others’ feelings is supposed to trigger generous or helping behavior in us … “generous” in the sense that we want to give of ourselves to other people. Empathy helps us build social connections.
So why have been telling myself all evening that I need to empathize with the man who carried out that attack? I’m not interested in working toward a world where we welcome in the people who want to kill indiscriminately, people who are comfortable striking at the peace of mind of millions of people, destabilizing a city’s equilibrium.
Maybe what I want is something else. It probably is good if people can understand the feelings of someone who would carry out an attack like the one in the subway (or any other mass shooting). If we understood the feelings of those people (I am struggling not to say “those killers,” but really, that’s what they are), maybe we could figure out how to help them so that they never reach the point of terrorism. So someone needs to be striving for empathy, but I’m not sure it’s me.
So where am I left? I don’t only want to have anger and horror as my responses to this man. My compassion is for his victims, and for everyone who has been traumatized (and re-traumatized) by his actions. I have anger. I have horror. I have disgust. I’m trying to find some room for something more, something more overtly constructive, something that lets me feel hopeful for change, let’s me feel hopeful, leaves me with hope.
Chilled, rainy morning. Nature fussing, showing now.
She twists your plans, could have it be snowing now.
But this isn’t about nature, it’s about anger,
about violence and the wind that’s blowing now.
When did we get here, this disregard for others?
But it’s not new. Our disdain is flowing now.
On days like today, that flow breaches the levees,
knocks us back from the line we should be toeing now.
I, Stacie, watch my neighbors wander – cold, confused.
what we thought we knew, understood, all going now.
National Poetry Month 2022: the Ghazal
As I’ve done for more than ten years (what?!), I’ve chosen a poetic form, and I’m going to try to write a poem in that form every day for the month of April … and I’m saying that boldly, knowing that I’ve already failed. I couldn’t find my way through to a poem on Day One, but I’m determined to continue.
The “Ghazal” is the form I’ve chosen for this year. Here is the structure and a little backstory (thank you Poetry Foundation):
“Originally an Arabic verse form dealing with loss and romantic love, medieval Persian poets embraced the ghazal, eventually making it their own. Consisting of syntactically and grammatically complete couplets, the form also has an intricate rhyme scheme. Each couplet ends on the same word or phrase (the radif), and is preceded by the couplet’s rhyming word (the qafia, which appears twice in the first couplet). The last couplet includes a proper name, often of the poet’s. In the Persian tradition, each couplet was of the same meter and length, and the subject matter included both erotic longing and religious belief or mysticism.”
Should be interesting!