I'm back in the classroom, teaching. Just before class begins, word reaches me that a student in the university has been found dead in his apartment. He was gay, flamboyantly so, some people thought. He's been murdered in what police suspect was a hate crime due to his sexual orientation.
The bell rings for my class. It's a raucous class, up to the point of the bell. At that point, the students settle into sullen silence, their eyes glazing over with deliberately assumed disinterest.
I tell them about the death of a fellow student many of them know. I ask them what we're to do with this news, with the death--with the murder--of someone many of us know.
Several students look stunned. One looks near tears. Another young woman in the class mutters through clenched teeth, her face a mask of studied indifference, "Just get over it." That's her response to the question I've just asked.
She's sitting, along with several other students, on a kind of oval, backless bench, several of which line one side of the classroom. I walk over and climb up onto the bench next to her, raising my voice so that the students throughout the room can hear me clearly.
I say, "One of our classmates thinks the proper response to this news is, 'Just get over it.' Is that how we ought to proceed, do the rest of you think?"
A student replies angrily, "He probably brought a trick home. He'd be alive today if he hadn't been promiscuous. Like a lot of gays."
I respond: "So, your grandmother is a trusting sort of elderly person. Someone comes to her door, tells her he's selling items, and she opens her door to him. He knocks her in the head and kills her, robs the apartment.
We should just get over it? She'd be alive today if she hadn't opened that door? Like a lot of old folks who don't know any better and get what's coming for them when they're foolish?"
And then I say, "John Donne told us that when the death-knell rings, every death-bell rings for me. He said none of us is an island, that the death of anyone among us affects and diminishes all of us.
But he's wrong, isn't he? It's a waste of time thinking about the death of anyone who's not close to us.
Just get over it. Right?"
I go on: "When children die of starvation, I should just get over it. What does their death halfway around the globe have to do with me?
When children die of illnesses that are easily treatable for people with access to basic health care, I should just get over those deaths, right? Nothing to do with me and mine.
When a gay teen shoots himself after years of bullying, when no one would listen to his pleas for help, that has nothing to do with me, right? Just get over it.
When a woman dies in a hospital that won't terminate a pregnancy that threatens her life, and the fetus is not viable, that has nothing in the world to do with me, right? Just get over it."
And then I wake up.