A shroud of horror lands on any decent person who’s heard the grisly tale of the five teenage boys in Coco Beach, Florida, who stood by idly on July 9 – like a pack of demonic hyenas- cackling, taunting and mocking the disabled man drowning right before their eyes.
A story like this has a way of separating us from our moorings. My mind and my heart have been on an expedition to understand this one (just like the Penn State “hazing” death recently, and the college kid who was destroyed by the north Koreans), so I’ve sought refuge for now in the realm of compassion. I find compassion to be much more productive than anger these days.
I think about the disabled man, Jamal Dunn, 31, whose last moments on this earth were torturous at best. A reassuring call out of “help is on its way”, or a paddle – even just extended, and missed, at Jamal’s final moment of descent – may have at least offered him a more peaceful crossing over.
Nobody was asking those boys to risk their own lives. That’s a moot point entirely. They probably didn’t even know how to properly swim to begin with. Most people don’t. And, even a strong swimmer, unskilled in lifesaving, might think twice about swimming out there as well.
I took a writing class* this afternoon and my mind went to those boys: “Did they know how to write? They could’ve used writing as a tool to know themselves and others better, just like I’m doing right now. Were they ever taught how to write their own names in cursive? Maybe they weren’t called by their names often enough. Maybe they weren’t seen. Maybe they weren’t ever given much basic human respect and consideration.”
The primary question being bandied about by the legal people and the public-at-large around this incident is, “Is it illegal to not help a person who is in obvious distress?” But it seems to me that if we’re going to ask any questions at all, the first one should be:
What the hell happened to these kids that they’re so dead inside?
It is possible – but unlikely – that these boys are born sociopaths.
But, if that’s not true, then the next question to ask, if we’ve got any real guts, is:
“What is it about us, individually and collectively, that contributed to this incident?”
After I finished my writing assignment, I was instructed to ask myself the question, “What did I hear in my writing but I didn’t write down?”
Immediately, I was presented with the reason why I had been so overtaken by this incident, and why it was occupying so much of my emotional and psychic space:
I had a fear that there was something in me that is as dead as those teenage boys.
Now, here’s the miracle: Just as quickly as I was able to identify this fear, it disappeared and peace returned.
I’d asked the question. I’d received the answer. I wasn’t afraid of the answer because I’m not afraid of my shadow. It’s part of what it is to be human and I embraced that a long, long time ago.
I don’t know about you, but every time I hear about one of these incidents, I’m crushed absolutely. Today, because I asked one, simple question, I was fortified. Today’s self-inquiry reminded me that I’m responsible for the impact I have in/on this world. And, there is peace in knowing that I have a point of power for transforming the darkest of what we human beings are.
It’s because we don’t make the inquiries that we continue to get stories like this: Of the drowning man, Jamal Dunn, and the five, broken teenage boys who refused to help him because they had no idea what it means to be a decent and loving human being.
*Proprioceptive Writing/ “Writing the Mind Alive”, Metcalf and Simon