There are times, I suspect, when a great deal of us have reached depths of despair so cavernous, so deep and so dark that the prospect of tomorrow can’t even be countenanced. Times when sadness is all encompassing, when hurt feels like an open wound that no potion or medicine is capable of healing.
For three bereaved families and dozens, dozens more whose loved ones were seriously maimed and injured, the events of Monday last in Boston will forever be etched into their memories.
And right across the English-speaking world, April 14th, also the anniversary of the Hillsborough Soccer Stadium disaster of 1989, that particular date shall now carry an additional emotional resonance.
But what about the dozens slaughtered in car bomb attacks in Iraq, the ongoing genocide which the west appears intent on doing nothing about in Syria, tensions in Korea, the political strife dogging Central Africa, the continuing fallout brought about by the Arab Spring, etc?
Why do we in the west weep and grieve as we do for Americans, Britons and other westerners struck down by wanton acts of barbarity? Why is our sympathy not universal? The answer is quite simple, as far as I’m concerned. Proximity, be it geographical or cultural.
In a media environment where we have become so immune to images of famine, war and deprivation, where the sight of an African child speckled in flies no longer shocks as once it did, has rendered the prospect of us as human beings, but also as consumers of media to equally emote to every tragedy, an impossibility.
Try and consider it in the following terms: most of us will grieve deeply when the time comes to bury a parent or sibling – but could you possibly be as upset when a first or second cousin leaves the mortal coil? Maybe in some cases, but in the majority of instances, of course not. It’s literally relative.
Boston struck a chord with us Irish because it is, Liverpool aside, I would argue, the most Irish city outside of this island.
We have connections with that great city of Massachusetts that date back to the mid-19th Century, most suitably illustrated by our affinity with the Kennedy family and their affinity with us. Boston has also provided so many opportunities to sons and daughters of Ireland and provided hundreds of thousands of Irish with jobs, a home, a family and a community.
It’s also a wonderful city to visit, and that I’ve spent only a week on the banks of the Charles River almost 34 years into my stint here on earth is something I intend to rectify very soon.
Walk down a street in Boston, and you’ll see as many pasty-faced folk as you would on Waterford’s Mall, Cork’s Patrick Street or Dublin’s O’Connell Street.
Sharing DNA does count for something, even if we’d all be better off without some of the more hokey ‘begorrah and b’gosh’ elements that go with the Irish-American stereotype.
So did the events of Monday last in Boston affect me more than a car-bombing in Baghdad? Of course they did.
To be blunt, I’ve no link of any kind to Iraq or the Middle East. I spent a few hours on a stopover in Abu Dhabi a couple of years ago, and that’s been my total personal experience of that region.
That doesn’t mean I’m not angered by what religious fanaticism and hawkish western imperialism has made a sad reality for so many in that part of the world, but, personally and culturally, the Middle East doesn’t resonate for me the way a tragedy in Boston or London has. And I make no apologies for stating that.
I first got to know some Bostonians eight and a half years ago, over a few pints in the Golf Coast Hotel outside Dungarvan at a mutual friend’s wedding. And a damn good night was had by all.
Six months later, I was drinking with the same fantastic people on their side of the Atlantic in a semi-frozen Boston, which was then just emerging from a particularly harsh blizzard. Since 2005, I’ve stayed in touch with one Bostonian in particular through Facebook, and we’ve been in touch a lot this week.
And I was so relieved to hear that she and her family were safe and sound after the bombs went off.
My job has provided me with some remarkable opportunities, ones I shall always be grateful for. I’ve been to parts of South Africa which can only be described as Third World, and gained some level of insight into the massive social issues facing the more impoverished of its society.
But I’ve also seen hope emerge from the most unlikely of sources while there, and been happily immersed in the joy of South Africans rich in ways that cannot be defined by monetary measurement.
And that hope helped me to cope with the dreadful sight of seriously ill children, many abandoned by parents for reasons we can’t truly comprehend from our western perspective. Nor would I pretend to.
Reality has hit me right between the eyes on both my visits to South Africa, and it’s a place I shall visit many more times in the future, now that I’ve gained some personal insight into life there, and made friendships with many wonderful people at the other end of the world.
We emote to what we and our nearest and dearest are most familiar with, and there’s nothing wrong with that at all.
A life lost violently, wherever that life is lost, is a source of regret and sadness, but it stands to reason that a loss of life in the most Irish of American cities will resonate more than, say, Colombo in Sri Lanka. That’s human nature, and that’s nothing to be apologetic for.
So to those who blame the media for the weight of emotion (or lack thereof) we feel when there’s a suicide bombing in Karachi, a stoning in Tehran when set against a bombing on a Boston street or on the London Underground, places many of us know and love, I can say only this: grow up.
All lost life is to be mourned, but some are mourned more than others. Why? Because long before any of us are journalists, or critics of journalists, we are, first and foremost, human beings. We emote most to what we relate to most. And it shall always be thus.