Thursday, December 2, 2010


(The following refers to the previous post, and was inspired by some of the comments)

I don't think there was anything particularly admirable about my actions. I wasn't the only one who stopped to help. I just did what I was supposed to do.

Perhaps the worst part of the whole situation was that common pity, which even the worldly can and do give to those in need, was so ill-suited to the occasion. She had just suffered an irrational crime. She was suffering and in pain, completely at a loss as to why such a thing had happened to her. Nothing can staunch such a psychological wound but a similarly "nonrational" gesture of love. As Dostoevsky reminds us, there are two ways to act out one's free will, so to speak: the self-emptying gesture of love, and the self-affirming gesture of annihilation -- either of oneself, or of others. This girl had just suffered the latter gesture: a preening young man affirming himself through inflicting violence on another. The only thing that can bind up such a wound is the inverse of this gesture: another, in the same position of strength with respect to her (not hard since she had been further weakened) making a self-emptying gesture, a sacrifice for her person, for her life.

What does all this head-stuff mean?

Well, I wish I could have gotten into that ambulance with her, paid for her expenses, done something for her -- as one person to another. Something nonsensical like that. Or rather, something nonrational. For isn't that how Christ comes to us? As a person?

My desire to do this is partially due to pride and the vain desire to be needed, I'm sure -- the desire for heroics which, again, is cataloged brilliantly by Dostoevsky. All that aside, however, five days out from the incident I think I've distilled what it is that has been troubling me, at least somewhat:

When such incidents -- and God knows there are innumerable of them on a daily basis in the DC-area alone -- so quickly move from the level of the personal to the official, the professional and the institutional, the opportunity for healing the wound diminishes.

She had insurance. The cop showed up. The ambulance came shortly thereafter. All of these things are good. But they are, perhaps, inferior goods, in some sense, to the sort of gesture of love which heals, which says, or rather demonstrates, that the same freedom which was so recklessly turned against her can just as irrationally, just as senselessly be exerted on her behalf, as in the case of the good Samaritan, who, upon providentially becoming bound up in the life of the man he rescues, gives of his substance to make that man well.

It didn't feel right to walk away from the scene on Sunday because, even though everything had been "taken care of" through the proper channels, I had become bound up in her life in a similar sense, and wanted to give, but could not. Instead I went to Starbucks.

I'm not lamenting that I didn't do "good enough" in this situation (yes, that's bad grammar -- move on); it's that I couldn't, and that many factors prevented me from doing so. (My own sinful nature is certainly a factor which I've been ignoring. There is a strong likelihood that this is all just ex post facto whimsy which disregards the fact that, had the situation even allowed me to give in the manner I'm positing, I would have been too much of a coward, etc.) But it's not even about me, so let me use the passive voice: the most important kind of good that should have been done, was not done, and probably won't get done in this instance. Still, we pray.

I mean, it's good that we have insurance, law enforcement, etc. That's not the point. The point is that the trappings of modernity, even the beneficial ones, will always in some sense obviate both our need and our ability to meet and minister to each other on a level which is truly human, truly personal. The "management" of various crises by impersonal entities numbs us, whether we are the victims or the Samaritans, by obscuring the importance of this restoration. Without this restoration, misanthropy ensues. Also, in this kind of situation, lesbianism. Not even kidding.

Why misanthropy? Well, all it takes for one to become distrustful of all humanity is the irrational violence of one man. All it takes for one to be restored, in some sense, is the nonrational, self-emptying sacrifice of one man.

Perhaps none of this is making sense.

I believe, with Fyodor D and those like him, that we are all responsible for each other in a general sense, and responsible for each other in a particular sense when we become bound up in each others' lives. I know that there is certainly such thing as a vain desire to "be Christ" to another person, but the problem with such a desire is not its predicate -- to "be Christ" to another -- but its vanity. We are all called to be Christ to others, to bear Christ to others, to sometimes be the one man through whom another is restored -- to health, to sanity, yes, but hopefully to Christ above all, through whom all things are made new.

And that was it. I had become responsible for this girl. I had learned her name. I had seen her bloody, tearstained face. I knew her agony, her disbelief. But I couldn't fulfill my responsibility to be Christ to her, person to person. I had to keep walking down Pennsylvania Avenue to Starbucks with all this in my head, albeit not in any semblance or order. But definitely there. Or else I wouldn't have been so bothered.

I know that what I did was in some sense"good", and I'm not debating whether she was helped, or whether Christ was able to use me, or any of that, so please don't bring critiques of that nature to what I've said if you wish to comment.

Thanks for reading.



  1. My dear Trent: I wouldn't worry about all these rationalizing thoughts. I think in situations of great sadness that it's difficult for humans to understand much and can only respond, a you did, with the best compassion they can offer. God knows and sorts the rest.

  2. I know, Joy. These are not rationalizing thoughts, and I am not worried, but thank you all the same.