Biff America: Selective greetings, selective sympathy
I never wave to drivers of Big Foot campers; they are not my people. By the same token, I don’t wave at Arctic Fox, Lite Craft or Palominos, either. I only wave at people who drive Lance Campers because that is what I personally own.
Per usual, for a couple of months this fall, my mate and I traveled all over the Southwest in our Lance Camper; whenever we saw another Lance, I’d shout to my mate, “Lance Bro!” and wave.
A few times we would cross paths with a camper that looked like a Lance, and I would begin my wave. But when I saw it wasn’t my brand, I’d turn the wave into a head scratch.
Humans are a clannish people with a long history of tribal loyalty.
I was hanging with my tribe last Sunday. I had to believe we were as content as band of Sioux Indians after a successful buffalo hunt.
It was one of those days when kismet, luck and Mother Nature cooperate – great snow, no wind and good friends. Of course, fine fortune needs to be recognized to be fully appreciated. Good things in life are often both unpredictable and undeserved.
With the glow of a good day behind us we sat in front of a woodburning stove at a local coffee shop enjoying great mud, good food and marginal service (my wife was working).
Then, as if a karmic reminder that fortune both ebbs and flows, the radio delivered the bad news. All I heard at first was 30 dead, including women, children and elderly. The four others in my group were immersed in conversation – the news went unnoticed – I got up and stood in front of the radio.
A bus on a steep mountain pass hit a patch of ice and crashed through the guardrail over the cliff. The steep terrain and the inaccessibility of the mangled bus and passengers made it difficult to even get a body count.
My first thought was – when you multiply the 30 victims by the number of family and friends who will mourn them – the grief is twenty-fold.
The newscast went on to other stories and I sat back down. The conversation rolled on, and though I participated, part of me was thinking about the last few seconds of those people’s lives: Were they terrified, numb, resolved? Was anyone ready to die? I told my friends about the accident but had no details. One of my gang was a little concerned because her neighbor’s child was on a field trip in Denver.
The memory of the day was sweeter in contrast to what might have been; even the coffee tasted better. The service was the same.
Just before we left, the news came on again at the top of the hour; this time the lead story was the continued tax cuts for the wealthy. I was surprised the bus crash wasn’t the top story. But after a few minutes the crash was again mentioned.
Again, I got up close to the radio to hear the details. Death toll of at least 30 maybe more, no survivors – on an icy mountain pass – in India.
I am ashamed to say, when hearing the location a wave of relief swept over me and, I’m guessing, the rest of the group. I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me a bus crash in India was less a tragedy than had it occurred in America.
I know I’m not the biggest jerk in the world. If I were I think there would have been some sort of ceremony that I would have been asked to attend. So, I’m guessing that I’m not alone in this response to global tragedy.
I think intellectually and spiritually we all recognize that a lost human life of any color, tribe or location is equally tragic, but the rub is reconciling what we know to what we feel. Are we wrong to be more outraged over the 3,000 thousand deaths from the 9/11 attacks than the more than 100,000 civilian casualties since the beginning of the Iraq War? Or to grieve more for the 20 victims of a Midwest tornado than the 200,000 dead as a result of the Haitian earth quake and cholera epidemic?
It is only natural for us as Americans to feel that way – but it is also sad and against the wishes of any God or religion that I am aware of.
We humans are a clannish people. We are more forgiving and empathetic towards others of our particular persuasion. But we can sometimes tolerate the hardships of peoples of another, culture, color or clan than our own.
I wish I could say I am innocent of this. Just like my only waving to those driving a specific brand of camper, my sympathy is doled out more generously to the suffering of those who look like me, who live near me. Hopefully by realizing this I can break my clannish inclinations – what better time to do so than the holiday season? As long as I don’t have to wave at those losers driving Big Foot campers …
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be seen on TV-8 and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Biff’s book “Steep, Deep and Dyslexic” is available from local book stores or from http://www.webersbooks.com
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