Somehow, everything has to mean something. It’s the only way to get through the day. Twelve people were murdered this week in Washington, D.C., and last week was the 12th anniversary of 9/11. Twelve years ago, I was sitting in my fourth grade classroom—two days ago, I was sitting in bed as the first report about a shooting at the Navy Yard came in, and continued going about my day as I looked through updates every few minutes. It was the same as any other day, really. I woke up. I went to class. I did some work. I talked to some friends. I went to sleep. I did it all again the next day, and I’ll do it again tomorrow—and the next day and the next, until I don’t anymore. It’s what I’ve always done. I resent it, I question it, but I am thankful for it.
Too many people don’t have the privilege of routine. Millions don’t have the luxury of just getting through life, of wondering what the suffering of others is about—because they are facing their own: They are the victims, the abused, and the ones we push to the back of our mind as we go about our business every day. Is that wrong? I don’t know. Will it make it any different if I stop doing what I have to do, give up on my passions, interests, and dreams to miserably contemplate the state of the world? Or naively try to change it?
Sometimes, I think that things will change if something happens to someone I love, or to me. I finally will be the one pushing for something new, something different. When I think about it, I swear to myself that should some tragedy strike my life, I wouldn’t be able to continue. My routine will come to an abrupt halt. But it doesn’t ever really, does it? This summer, I experienced a death in my family, and the knowledge that my life would continue, that it would go back to its routine eventually, hurt the most. Last week, I watched the videos of the towers falling down over and over, and listened to the 911 calls from the men and women on the top floors of the buildings as they came closer to collapse. This week, I looked at live photos from D.C. and the images of grief-stricken colleagues, friends, and families as they reeled from what had happened. But in 10 years, in 20 years, it won’t hurt so much, will it?
Things happen, and then they don’t mean so much anymore. Sometimes, things happen and they never mean much, never hurt much. There’s Syria, right? And everyone dying there. And then there’s everywhere else in the world where everyone is dying too. Doesn’t it just seem like everyone is dying everywhere, all the time? You stop a moment, you think, and you wonder, “Is this really how the world is?” Then you move on. Everyone has to have breakfast and lunch and dinner, if they can afford it. We all try to find love wherever we can. We try to make art and music, friendships, teams, clubs, homes, and all sorts of things like that. Humanity, somehow, grows everywhere—like the little leafy stubs you’ll see peeking through the lifeless sidewalk cracks in the middle of a New York City street.
Really, though, what other choice is there? We were made to be alive. When that life is taken from someone—whether someone you love or someone of the faceless, nameless masses of humankind all across the world—what choice do we have? So you wake up in the morning and go to class—or you hide from another gunshot, bomb, or soldier. You live your life and do what you can—but you feel defeated, because the world will do what it wants. Terrible people will do terrible things. Natural disasters will destroy people’s worlds. And God or dust or whatever it is will eventually take everyone. We have to find hope in our petty routines and meaning in our ability to continue with life, even as it is systematically taken from so many of us. It’s the only thing we can do while we wait around for the world to change, hoping that maybe one day we’ll be the ones brave enough, caring enough, sensitive enough, and just—well, enough—to change it.
Ayelet Pearl is a Barnard College and Jewish Theological Seminary senior. Pearls of Wisdom runs alternate Wednesdays.
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