2/6/05

thickening distance

Rage thickens distance. Sadness thickens distance. Fear thickens distance. Shame thickens distance. Guilt thickens distance. Apathy and indifference thicken distance. Holding on to what has passed thickens distance. Mistrust thickens distance. Information thickens distance. Overexposure thickens distance. I thicken distance.



I had an interesting conversation with a 6th grader the other day during lunchtime. I spend most of my lunches having conversations with 6-12 year olds - mostly about what is and isn't fair in their worlds at any given moment. I was talking to several boys about information I knew they had about a fellow student who is, by almost everyone's assessment, strange and unusual. That he is strange and unusual make him a target. He sets himself up because he pesters some of his peers with no sense of their tolerance levels or personal space in order to get attention. The previous day, someone had flushed his sweatshirt. My conversation with the boys about this incident went something like this:



"I know you boys know that something happened to "T" yesterday during lunch."

Nods of assent.

"I know you boys know who was involved."

More nods.

"How come none of you told me about what was happening to "T"?"



That's when one sixth grade boy said, "I stay out of things. When something's going down, I just walk away. I don't want to know about anything."



I was struck by his admission because there was no shame in it, no sense of cowardess or guilt for being less than helpful. It was as if he were telling me what he had for lunch, matter of fact, simple, and uncomplicated. At 12 years old he has learned to thicken the distance.



I asked the boys if they had heard about a recent event in the news where two women were attacked by a would-be robber in a supermarket just inside the store. The video tape showed these two women fending off the attacker while shoppers strolled by with carts unphased by the women's plight or pleas for help. Most said they had.



The one boy was non-plussed. I looked at him wonderingly. He's a nice boy. He is never in trouble and as polite as the day is long. He also has a formbidable physical presence - nearly 5'8 which is quite tall for a 6th grader. He did not appear to be avoiding involvement out of fear for his safety. I wondered what he'd been told at home and how often.



In my mind I flashed to something else - the Holocaust. The 60th anniversary of Auschwitz passed a week or so ago. There were many stories and rememberences on the radio station I listen to. I imagined the towns surrounding death camps like Auschwitz situated in nature - not far from woods, streams, and hillsides. Were the citizens of those towns immoral, uncaring monsters, or simply doing what they thought best - thickening the distance between themselves and those unfortunate Jewish neighbors and friends who they imagined might be as subversive and bad for society as they had been told.



Peter, a man and disciple Jesus reportedly loved, swore he would not deny his friend and teacher. When the moment of truth came, Peter thickened the distance in spite of his vows in order to shield himself from what he could not face.



And I left the playground on Friday disturbed. Not because the world is going to Hell in a handbasket, not because kids today lack integrity, courage and the beginnings of moral backbone.



I was disturbed because, I am the boy, the German villager, and Peter - I thicken distances between me and others whose humanity I acknowledge but whose human condition I won't let myself imagine beyond a roughly sketched idea of what must be going on. I am informed but not moved, called upon but not answering, reminded but not mindful, aware but not tuned-in.



Rage thickens distance. Sadness thickens distance. Fear thickens distance. Shame thickens distance. Guilt thickens distance. Apathy and indifference thicken distance. Holding on to what has passed thickens distance. Mistrust thickens distance. Information thickens distance. Overexposure thickens distance.



I can choose differently. And this is where my journey really begins.

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