On Being Burnt Alive

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“A history lesson: A faggot is a bundle of sticks originally used as kindling for fires that engulfed gays. When they were burned at the stake, people were firewood. But Moses came across wood on fire and saw God in it. What is a burning bush but bundles of branches on fire? Isn’t it funny how faggots and God can look the same sometimes?”

Excerpt from the slam poem  “God is Gay” by Elliot Darrow


I’m always hearing people use the words “fag”, “faggot”, “gay”. They use the former two as synonyms for “unworthy” and “unworthy” and the latter as a synonym for “most terrible evil bad of no-goodness”.

I’m also always hearing people use the words “fat”, “stupid”, “retard” and “crazy”. They use these words as synonyms for “unworthy”, “unworthy”, “unworthy” and “makes me feel unworthy, which is completely unacceptable”.

I’m always hearing people be unkind to each other. I’m always seeing people be unkind to each other. I have damned good hearing and my peripheral vision makes owls jealous, which might be why I notice this unkindness so much.

Or it might be because I’m not apathetic to the suffering of others.

Apathy. Noun. “The lack of interest or concern: indifference”.

Do you know what would happen if your oven caught on fire and you reacted with apathy? Your house would burn. When the fire investigator came to figure out how much they should reimburse you, they’d ask you the following question: “Did you notice that your oven was on fire?” When you uninterestedly responded “Yeah, I guess”, they would then ask “what did you do when you noticed this?” only to be met with your  unconcerned answer “nothing, really.”

Do you know how much money you would get refunded in response to your indifference? ZERO. Nothing. Nada. You would get not a single penny refunded by the insurance company and might in fact be charged with arson by the police because when your house was on fire, you chose to not act. You neglected to put out the flames and just sat there waiting for the small kitchen fire to turn into a massive out-of-control blaze.

“Friend, you are staring out at a world on fire complaining about how ugly you think the ashes are.” Excerpt from “Another Rape Poem” by Brenna Twohy

In legal terms, we call that criminal negligence, which is “any type of conduct that  “grossly deviates” from normal, reasonable standards of an ordinary person.  It generally involves an indifference or disregard for human life or for the safety of people.  Sometimes the definition for criminal negligence also requires a failure to recognize unjustifiable risks associated with the conduct.”

In Layman terms, however, we call that being a bystander.

Unfortunately, most people are way too comfortable with the idea of being bystanders, which means that it isn’t actually a crime to stand by and do nothing when someone else is in danger, unsafe or mistreated simply because of the “grossly deviates from normal” clause mentioned above. If everyone is being apathetic, indifference can’t possibly be a crime the same way if everyone is jumping in front of a moving train, suicide can’t possibly be a bad idea.

Oh wait…

What do these three pictures have in common?

All sarcasm aside, my point is this: if you don’t move to reproach, admonish, chastise or otherwise discourage someone from being cruel, mean, prejudiced, discriminatory or unkind towards another, you’re standing by while someone is being burned alive. Every. Single. Time. Whenever you didn’t stand against a bully, you stood by and apathetically watched a house burn. Just like I did every time I said or did nothing. Just like I refuse to continue doing.

How many souls shrieked in the flames while you walked by and didn’t water them? Defend yourself if you must by saying that it wasn’t your business, you didn’t want to be nosy, you were too busy, it’s not your job or that you “didn’t notice” . Give your excuses if it makes you feel better but know that your defenses will fall on ears as purposely deafened as yours are.

It doesn’t matter if you hate that neighbour, don’t know that neighbour, respect that neighbour too much to pry, don’t want to walk into that neighbour’s house uninvited, aren’t a fire-fighter or claim you didn’t see, hear, smell, feel the flames (I see your awkwardly averted eyes; mine used to look like that so I know they mean that you are lying).

Your excuses don’t matter because I know very well – as does everyone who has ever stood in the flames (and that is, indeed, everyone still alive and the many many ones who are dead) – that every single bystander is unworthy because every single bystander is just another reason why houses remain aflame.

You may not strike the match – congratulations on that – but if you are a bystander, your silent exhalations are the wind that keeps the flames fed and rising. Witnessing injustice and coming to the defense of an innocent is never inappropriate. What is inappropriate is standing there with water in your mouth, keeping your tongue wet and limber and refusing to speak in defense of someone being lighted on fire.

Witness, you always have something to say.

 

I know you do because you’re tweeting a dozen times a day, posting something to Facebook or Instagram twice as often and sending your friends a text or a snap every 10 minutes. You’re always calling someone, e-mailing someone, talking to someone. When you’re not talking to someone, you’re complaining out loud about politics, cursing the weather, lamenting rises in bus fare or gas prices, and swearing at people who cut you off in line or on the highway.

You never shut up. Except when your speaking up will save a soul.

Why?

Why do you unhesitatingly complain about everything under the sky but you don’t jump to speak up when somebody is racking someone else over the coals?

I think it’s because you’re scared. I think it’s because when you see or hear someone else burning, you remember having been in the flames and you get too scared to move so you become apathetic instead. You are scared and apathetic because you forgot that you aren’t the one in the fire. Right this moment, YOU aren’t in danger. YOU aren’t being hurt. This means that YOU have the power to save those who are. Be brave. SPEAK.

You are powerful beyond your knowing.

When you open your mouth, you will realize that your voice is so powerful, it doesn’t carry the force of a mere glass of water: it has all the power and fury of a rainstorm.

Putting Out Fires.jpg

Be the kind voice, the defensive voice, the shielding, supportive, solid voice that gets between every single injustice and act of cruelty that crosses your path. In fact, cross the road to go meet the injustices and cruelties that aren’t on your path and speak up against them too! Offer as much disapproval as the ones holding the matches can take and then offer some more.

Your voice will make it rain.

Your efforts may not stop the action from taking place, the blow from landing, the cruel word from being said or the fire from being lit but it doesn’t matter. Your voice may not stop the one holding the match from walking free to strike again but it doesn’t matter. Your voice may come too late to stop the house from burning to the ground but it doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter if the words you said that one time in defense of an innocent weren’t enough to end to all injustice in the world forever. That’s okay. They don’t have to be. It doesn’t matter if you can’t save the whole world because every single time you act and say “Stop! This is WRONG!”, you are keeping the flames at bay for just one moment longer.

The house may still burn.

 

Your voice will be what saves the souls who live there.

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