Human Subjects

This piece was written by Mat Keel after the recent bombings in Boston.

In my earliest memories, I am wearing a yellow jumper at the bottom of softly towering sand dunes on Cape Cod. I still spend a week of my summer there when I can, less often than I would like. Later I went to college in Amherst then lived in neighboring Rhode Island. I am planning to run the NYC marathon in November, too, so the perverted poetry of mangling runners out of their legs is not lost on me.

But we are better than this. Better than waking up from our basically complacent state of being for the few days in which television stations, presidents and websites furiously script this narrative like frenzied amphetamine bees, retelling it until it seems as though it came from our hearts rather than was placed there and repeated like the pledge of allegiance.

In these times, we circulate stories of decency and human goodness, telling them as a counterbalance to the horrors with which they arose. We treat them as remarkable. What if they are not? What if compassion and empathy are our natural state of being and, while beautiful like the sun or the ocean or the inevitable return of spring, entirely ordinary? What if they are always happening, existing in no dialectic with evil? Simply good.

I’m horrified every single day by the escalating brutality of the Mexican drug war, the drone victims in Pakistan, various bombings all over vast Asia, and the assault and murder of prisoners held by the state of California. I’m equally so sad and confident that if the empathy we extend here, now, in this little crack in time in which we touch the ordinary goodness of our being, is not sustained and nurtured until it encircles the globe, we are bound to endlessly reproduce the same fundamental strata of splitting and objectification that lead to this event and all those others.

Is there anything puzzling about the co-existence of basic goodness and harmful activity? I can only look to my self where I find there is not.

I suspect I am just like the young men who bombed the Boston Marathon.

I too sometimes find larger, more fixed and destructive systems of meaning alluring. Ones that seem to resonate with my hopelessness and my frustration with the dark state of the world. I’ve never killed anyone but I’ve wounded others’ sanctity more times than I could ever count.

I aspire to act with compassion; surely my heart is also gold. But, like these men, I too am habitually and periodically prone to compartmentalized and destructive acts of anger, fear and confusion that cause harm to others. They are much smaller but, as in these men, they co-exist with acts of loving-kindness.

This week, explosives fused with confusion. The ensuing tenor may be subtler this time but aggressive xenophobia and paranoia will proliferate again. So will subjection to questionable national decree. I imagine we will eventually come to accept armed robots flying above our city streets. Either way, more bodies will be savaged.

Forgive me when I join the cast of voices who appear to speak too quickly, who seem to take this as an opportunity to remind others about the drones and the wars and the blindness of selective collective empathy. I’m sorry this will seem callous and political and piggish. Please know, it is not opportunism, or reactivity.

My heart simply hurts always and I just don’t know how else to respond but to hold forth the proclamation that violence of all sorts is constant and furious, that this is but a more local enunciation of the seemingly intractable persistence of cruelty.

This is how I  honor the belief we are infinitely capable of peace.

I try often to clearly imagine what it would be like if I lived in tribal Pakistan. What it would really feel like to be tracked by killer war robots from the sky, the sounds and sensations, my terror, and what I would feel if I had watched my neighbors’ children blown to bits while hearing Americans celebrate the latest soft victory in their apparently private human rights.

I am human too and I suspect they would sound glib and dissociated from what they had done to my own kin. I am sure some part of me would feel saddened by this distant Boston violence but suspect I would feel too, in the energy of my being, some sense that the universe was just.

On any meaningful examination, I share nothing truly important more so with anyone at the marathon that day than someone from Bali or Madrid or Bombay. My heart is no softer or more exposed for someone simply because they too bear the ascription American, New Englander, Runner.

So let us extend our hearts so far and so wide and so much and so all the time that, when those of us who live inside these imaginary national boundaries are killed and maimed and mangled as some were last week, our humanity and the perversions of violence, can be seen clearly by all around the world, never erased and never marred by the way our names are attached to the great monolithic USA.

I, Mat Keel, formally reject my symbolization as a subject of this nation. I request that, in the event of my violent death, my passing shall not be represented in such a way as to exceptionalize my person as, in any way, different or more valuable than persons of any place. If I die in a calculated and political act of violence, please allow the record to show that I do not condone retaliation.

I request you hold the perpetrator of such a crime firmly within recognition of his humanity, that you help him to see his heart through the clouds, golden and immutable.

Above all, I request that my death never be counted as the death of an American citizen. In the place of that utterance, please take a moment of silence. Let the crickets chirp, naming me only as one who lived.


Mat KeelMat Keel meditates everyday.