An ancient Rabbi was once asked why God respond to the cries of the Israelites in bondage at the moment He did, as opposed to their earlier anguished pleas. The wise man answered that The Holy One intervened when the people could no longer imagine a better life.
I do not want to count the lives lost to gun violence in Chester so far this year as if they were statistics in a box score. It might be at 8. And then there is the four year old whose funeral I went to this week who was accidentally killed while he was at his father’s funeral. His father was killed in a shooting that may have been a case of just being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Should little Karder be counted too as an unattended victim of gun violence as a grieving speaker suggested?
I am beginning to see how my work on Israeli-Palestinian issues may actually have some relevance to Delaware County. At a presentation in Jerusalem in February, the award winning writer and journalist Yossi Klein Halevi observed that the Second Intifada’s wave of suicide bombing in Israel a decade ago had created a national state of post traumatic stress. Chester is a closely knit community- everybody has lost someone. Everyone knows someone who has been killed by violence. The city is traumatized. People are grieving. People are angry. Chester may be on the brink of its own “spring awakening.”
I am not prepared to affix blame. There are too many guns and too few jobs. There is failure on the part of all the institutions that exist to promote well-being in the community. But what I do know is that the people of Chester love their kids as much as folks on the Mainline do. They want their kids to be happy just like the folks in Media and they want great futures for their children just like the citizens of Swarthmore. Right now they might settle for a future period.
As I was saying goodbye to the kids in our afterschool program Thursday, one of the boys said, “I am going to miss you Mr. Bill.” I told him I would miss him too. He then said, “What if I never came back, would you miss me then?” His question struck me like lightening. “I would come find you,” I replied. He smiled and ran to his ride home.
We must wake up from our suburban illusion of security and our society’s libertarian delusions. The French philosopher and mystic Simone Weil once observed, “Human beings are so made that the ones who do the crushing feel nothing; it is the person crushed who feels what is happening. Unless one has placed oneself on the side of the oppressed, to feel with them, one cannot understand.”
We need to care, lest our hearts become as indifferent to the suffering of our neighbor as the one who pulls the trigger. We need to act so that the people of Chester and all those living under oppression can both imagine and work for a better life.