Lessons Learned

It could be worse…

I recently watched a documentary called Shenandoah about the brutal beating and murder of an immigrant in a small Pennsylvania town.  The attackers were high school football stars who were seemingly untouchable and protected by the local law enforcement.  Eventually the case gained national notoriety and the boys involved in the attack as well as the corrupt local officials trying to steer the investigation had to face reality and the rightful punishment they deserved.

Luis Eduardo Ramirez Zavala was the Hispanic victim and so the case was treated as a hate crime because witnesses heard the football players yelling racial slurs as they repeatedly punched and kicked him in the head, eventually delivering a fatal blow that ended his life two days later.

The most striking scene in the film for me was during a protest in which Mr. Ramirez’s grieving fiancée and friends are peacefully standing on the other side of a group of police officers while the local citizens of the town are carrying anti-immigration signs, and yelling things such as “Go back to Mexico!”  The crowd eventually targets the victim’s fiancée and begins chanting directly at her, and making statements such as “He got what he deserved!” implying that just being an immigrant entitles the local born and bred population to beat outsiders to death.  Apparently the local citizens who condone such violence don’t recall their own ancestors coming to the United States from Europe as immigrants looking for a better life.  It is ironic how quickly we can forget the past as long as it suits us in the present.

I keep thinking about Mr. Ramirez’s fiancée and the grace and poise she reflected throughout the film.  Seeing Jason lifeless in a hospital bed is an image forever burned into my mind but what if he had suffered at the hands of others before his death?  What if his last experience on this earth was one full of hate and violence?  Could I be as forgiving and courageous as this woman?  Could I have faced protesters telling me someone I loved deserved to be brutally attacked and beaten to death because he was born in another country?  No, most likely not.  I would probably be full of anger and hostility towards not only the people responsible for his death but also the people who can justify such savagery.  I know anger is capable of eating us alive if we allow it to do so and for that I am grateful nobody was to blame for Jason’s death.  If he had to leave so soon then I’m grateful he died while he was doing something he loved.

Discovering my own silver linings through someone else’s tragedy feels selfish and deplorable in many ways but for me it is important to be reminded that it isn’t as bad as it could be.  These are the lessons that help neutralize my bitterness and allow room in my heart for compassion. It is easy to allow traumatic experiences to harden us but I think living through the unlivable ultimately makes most of us better people.

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