I was reading Facebook this morning (as I do when I get up), when I saw a post from a politically-conservative roadgeek friend of mine related to the death of Fidel Castro. It showed a picture of President Obama in Cuba, and said:
Why wouldn’t this piece of work send condolences for his departed hero? We already know what he’s about. There’s plenty of room in Hell for every damn one of them.
I stopped and I looked at it. I stared and thought. I wasn’t surprised to see this from this friend — he’s part of a group of very conservative folk who are still filled with hatred — burning hatred — for President Obama, and who have been gleeful at the death of Castro. But what I was thinking — and what triggered this post — was that the stone cold hatred that our partisan political atmosphere has engendered over the past 24 years (since the election of President Clinton), has burned out human compassion.
I’m not Christian, but my understanding from my Christian friends is that Christ taught compassion — he taught us to see the humanity even in those we hate. He preached love and caring, not hatred and war. In Christian theology, who is it that practices a philosophy of hatred, who wants to foment war, who wants to advance Armageddon, to wants to turn men against their neighbors? Who, on the other hand, preaches that we need to treat our neighbors as we would want to be treated? To care about the sick and the hurt and those in pain? When we, as humans, give into all consuming hatred of anyone (and that includes our political opponents), who are we letting win the war?
I do know that in Jewish tradition, compassion is a key part of our tradition. During the Passover ceremony, where we remember our escape from the tyranny of Egypt and from Pharaoh, we read:
Though we descend from those redeemed from brutal Egypt,
and have ourselves rejoiced to see oppressors overcome,
yet our triumph is diminished
by the slaughter of the foe,
We remember the Talmudic teaching: “When the Egyptian armies were drowning in the sea, the Heavenly Hosts broke out in songs of jubilation. God silenced them and said, “My creatures are perishing, and you sing praises?””
So, to the question at hand:
Why wouldn’t this piece of work send condolences for his departed hero?
Why would you not send condolences when someone dies — even someone you hate. There are commonalities for every human: we rejoice with a family at a safe birth, and we mourn with a family when someone they love has passed way. This is human compassion. Condolence aren’t about the person who died — they are about the family and loved ones left behind. Even if a person was pure evil, they had mothers and fathers who, at least at some point in their life, loved them. They had people that, at some point in their life, cared about them. What does it cost us to show human compassion to those left behind? We might not feel sorry; we might not be able to say, “I feel sorry for your loss.” But we should be able to say, “I understand the pain and sorry you feel at your loss.”
Further, little gestures of compassion can go a long way. Responding to hate with compassion demonstrates the people that we are. It shows that beneath the rhetoric, we see that our foes are people to. They have parents that love them; they love and care about their children. They have close friends who will miss them when they are gone. Even the Grinch and Scrooge, deep inside, had a spark of humanity, and had someone who cared about them. Even for an evil person, showing compassion to their loved ones can rebuild and mend bridges.
In the case of Fidel Castro, it is a great thing for Cuba and the Americas that he is gone. We can share in the joy that one more brutal dictator has passed away. But we must temper that joy with the realization that Castro still had family that loved him, and that there are many people in Cuba in mourning at his passing. What does it hurt us to offer condolences to them? What can’t we have empathy for their loss, even though we are glad that the man is gone?
To my friends who feel this white hot political hatred, whether it is directed at the Democratic leaders (Obama, Clinton) or the Republicans (Trump, Pence) — I say: “remember compassion.”. If Hillary Clinton dropped dead of a heart attack, and all you would think is “Ding dong the bitch is dead” — and not have any compassion for those the loved her and were left behind — then you are the problem. And to those on my side, if the same were to happen to Donald Trump, and if you were to gloat instead of feeling compassion for his wife, children, and friends — you are also the problem.
Fidel Castro’s death is a test for us. Have we given in to the hatred around us and allowed the evil inclination to win, or do we still have our humanity and compassion? Can we see that we all started out as God’s children, and that God mourned even at the death of the Egyptians and of Pharaoh’s first born?