Essay

Confronting Atrocity

I walked out of my class with more questions than answers
as confused as today’s weather
a patch of clear sky even when the rain pounded all around me

My professor broke down the difference between knowing and accepting
She said knowing can be powerful because “knowledge is power”
but not knowing can be powerful too– for it serves as an open door to a new conversation,
to question the unknown, the unfamiliar

then there’s accepting
accepting reality at its worst, even when we don’t want to fully acknowledge it.

When power dynamic among different racial groups come in play,
think about who gets the say in writing–and erasing–history

Countless examples pay so much attention to the perpetrator
(San Bernardino, Aum Shinrikyo, Nazi Germany, and so on)
shaming them for their crime, probing into their background…
but what about the victims who fell into their hands?
what about the survivors who lived through the victimization?
Don’t they deserve to be mourned,
to be recognized for their humanity, too?

Then I raised my hand and commented,
“This whole thing reminds me of what happened here a couple years ago. There was so much media coverage and condemnation toward the perpetrator yet so little sympathy for the victims.”

Immediately, I felt the atmosphere of the classroom change
as though it adjusted to the gloomy weather outside the lecture hall.

The conversation turned more disturbing
trying to dissect the racial dynamic of the perpetrator/victims and the choice of weapon taking away the lives of specific victims
analyzing the psychological and physical distance for murder
People shuffled in their seats uncomfortably
Several footsteps hurriedly headed toward the exit
to avoid taking in any further about the tragedy than they already have two years ago.

I must have thrown a curve ball at my professor because,
after a tense discussion between her and students, she muttered, “I didn’t expect that to be brought up”
and tried to squirm out of the conversation altogether…

Shit, did I say something wrong?
Was I being insensitive?
Too soon?
If we’re trying to process what’s going on in the world, isn’t it necessary for our understanding to ground it with whatever goes on in our backyard?

Maybe because I immediately left the country after it all happened,
didn’t stay with my fellow classmates, friends, and professors throughout the communal healing process for the following year,
that I had…the audacity…to bring it up in a classroom setting.

In hindsight, I acknowledge that we all deal with loss and atrocity differently.
Now I’m slowly realizing that I was completely absent when the local community made efforts to commemorate the lost lives.
Scholarships in their name, memorials in the park…
So maybe a majority of the class–who I’m assuming stayed longer than me–would have rather moved on than confronted it from a theoretical lens?

This made me question if the local tragedy was brought up in a classroom setting the following year. Because I didn’t know. So I asked a couple friends. One said it was a “taboo”; another said their class processed it by “talking about their feelings and writing about it.”

Personally, a critical discussion about the event is a crucial step toward accepting the inhumanity of it all, and then take the next step toward healing together (or individually). I think it’s especially important when students/people who were present at the incident will most likely leave within the next few years. In ten, twenty, thirty years, professors and students will discuss about it as another historical tragedy of the past, as part of a never-ending list of tragedies in our human society. Although this community constantly changes with the entrance and exit of students and people, I hope we continue to commemorate the six lives whose individual youth, potential, and passion was taken away too soon.

George Chen, James Hong, David Wang, Katie Cooper, Veronika Weiss, Christopher Martinez — I keep you all with me in my thoughts, in my heart.

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