Among the flurry and frenzy on social media sites were several comments expressing “enough already” or even “it’s not important, move along.” To be fair, some of the “enough already” comments had more to do with information overload experienced by those who live near the city where the trial happened and who were tired of every other news item being drowned out by this case. Fair enough and amen to that. But for those who claim that this case and this verdict weren’t important… to put it bluntly, I couldn’t disagree with you more.
Before I get into the main part of my post, I want to point out that the first two words of the title of the post aren’t “Casey Anthony” but “Caylee Anthony.” Casey Anthony, in my opinion, really doesn’t matter. Whether you think she killed her daughter or not, her actions have proven time and again that at the very least she is exceedingly narcissistic and more likely is a sociopath. She did nothing to announce to anyone that her daughter was missing in the first place and has done nothing at any point to help anyone locate her child or determine the cause of her daughter’s death. But Caylee Anthony… she matters. Not mattered, as in past tense, but matters. Still.
It’s often said that one of the oddities of human nature is that we feel more profoundly affected by tragedies when we relate to single individuals rather than to vast numbers. We have trouble wrapping our heads around large scale human catastrophes. Remember the tsunami of 2004? All told, that terrifying wave killed more than 230,000 people. That’s no typo – two hundred and thirty thousand. Think about that casualty figure for a moment. Try to get your brain to fathom what that means in terms of humanity and tragedy. It’s difficult, isn’t it? It’s just so… huge and overwhelming and unthinkable. Finding the right emotion for a disaster of that magnitude is tough. But then imagine one single mother on that day who clung to her small child as tightly as she could, desperate to save him, desperate to survive the torrent, until the waters finally tore him from her grasp. Imagine the agony of that one woman trying so frantically to save her young son, her beloved child, only to have the undeniable force of nature overpower her. Think about her loss and her unbearable grief, and then think about your reaction to her story. Bear in mind, I’m not speaking of a single situation but of thousands that happened that day, sadly. And yet, it’s easier to empathize with and sympathize for that single woman and to grasp the despair of that one mother’s plight than it is the full scope of the tsunami event.
As with the one lost child among the thousands who perished in the tsunami, Caylee’s death is both a singular tragedy and a representation of so many others. People around the country and around the world cared about her disappearance and her situation and her recovery and the trial. We cared and we hoped and we grieved, and tonight we mourn for what many of us feel was the loss of an opportunity for justice. We don’t care because we knew her personally. Of course not. And no, we don’t consciously think of her as a symbol. She was Caylee. She was a child. We grieve specifically for her loss.
But part of why we focus all this attention and emotion and grief and hope and anger on Caylee is that she is just one of so many abused and hurt (and worse) children in the world. She’s not a symbol, but she is “one of” nonetheless. She is one of so many children who, either at times or throughout their youth, are unwanted, discarded, disdained, mistreated, abused, simply tolerated or completely untolerated. There are thousands of children in our country and in the world who simply are children, who are physically unable to be self-sufficient, who didn’t ask to exist but who do nonetheless, who are completely reliant on others for care and feeding and housing, who yearn for and have an instinct to crave and work for love and affection. But let’s face it – in the most basic sense, children exist at the whim of the adults who are responsible for them. And there are adults out there who do not perform that responsibility appropriately (to put it mildly).
As with thinking about all of the tsunami victims, it is literally impossible – to the point of madness – to think about and feel “enough” sympathy for all of the abused children in the world or enough loathing for all of the neglectful or abusive or murderous parents. There are so many of us who want justice for every single mistreated child. We want to rail against abusers and wrap our arms around the tortured children and make the world a safer place for all those who can’t protect themselves. But as individuals, we feel that’s impossible. We feel impotent to make a dent in this grand breadth of awfulness. So instead, we collectively focus on one child, with every part of our heart and every ounce of our hope. We pray that she’s found safe, and when she isn’t found safe we pray that the awful excuse of a human being that did this horrible thing serves some sort of justice. Because if we can’t bring all of the abusers and murderers of children to justice, then maybe we can at least have justice this one time. And then, when we feel justice has not been served, we cry out collectively, because if justice can’t happen for this one child, how can we hope to save the thousands of children still out there being abused and mistreated? If we can’t save one, even posthumously, how can we hope to save the rest?
So this, my doubting and aggravated friends, is why this case and this trial and this verdict were so important to so many of us. We wanted to see a difference made. We wanted justice for the one so we could imagine justice for the many. We wanted to feel that some good could come from this tragedy, even if we couldn’t save the girl… even if the good that came from all of this was simply our own internal justification and fire and drive to get out there and do more to protect the meek and bring the bad guys in and make the world a better place and make a difference.
And rightly or wrongly, because of today’s verdict, right now it feels like a losing battle.