The NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament is upon us once again, meaning that my yearly ritual of sitting on the couch, consuming high calorie snacks and beverages, and tallying up my brackets to make sure that I picked the right upsets this year. I've done this for years, but in the last few years the NCAA Tournament has taken on an additional significance unrelated to basketball.
In 2003 I was a Senior in college, and my friends and I gathered for four straight days of college basketball just as the invasion of Iraq began. We had seen on the news that tensions were mounting and that Bush was going to give the order any day. I was and remain opposed to the war, an attitude my friends did not share with me.
The bombing actually began on Thursday, the opening day of the tournament. Rather than interrupt the basketball action, every time the games went to commerical Dan Rather popped on the screen and began showing us more footage of the bombing of Baghdad. The camera had it's night vision lens on, so everything had this strange green glow to it.
My friends, no doubt encouraged by the "over 21" beverages we were consuming, cheered every time the saw in explosion. They yelled "Oh (expletive), run!" and other cries of fear in mock-Arabic accents to amuse the rest of the guys. I have to admit I laughed a little bit. I love silly voices. And although I didn't actively participate in cheering for the bombing footage, I didn't object to it either. I mostly just sat there, transfixed, because this was all so surreal.
Reflecting on this later I realized that to a bunch of fraternity guys like us, everything we saw that day was one giant video game. We spent a lot of time playing sports video games with one another, and when we got tired of those we'd put in Halo or another one of these battle simulation games were the object is to cause as much death and destruction as possible. All of us, myself included, were living in a matrix of our own making, so removed from reality where we arrived at a point where footage of bombs falling on a large city, no doubt killing more civilians than members of Saddam's regime, was entertaining to us.
None of these people had names or faces to us. We never saw the orphaned children or people with severe burns. I can't help but wonder if we in America have so entertained ourselves to death that we are unable to recognize the suffering of others. Perhaps occasionally we need to pry our overweight butts of the couch and do something to relieve the suffring in our own backyard. When those that suffer greatly begin to have names and faces, the problem is no longer some abstract, giant video game for us to laugh at. The problem involves real humans, fellow children of God who by chance of birth drew a different lot in life than we did. I pray that God will help us to wake up from our self constructed, escapist realitites and recognize not only the depth of suffering in the world, but our part in alleviating it.