Letters to Jeremy

Letters to Jeremy- July 11th 2014: What Is The Value Of A Life?

Letters to Jeremy

Brandon is the Editor-in-Chief and President of Maglomaniac. He is the author of the Eat Your Serial title Ten Years Gone: Pomp and Circumstance, as well as the columns Child's Play, Nerd's Eye View, Letters to Jeremy, Irate Educator, The Audio Files, and The Dao of Ninjape, among others.

Dear Jeremy,

As I am writing this to you there are currently missiles raining in the Holy Land of Israel and the Palestinian Territories. The week I am writing this to you I participated in a mock trial that had me placing a monetary value on the life of a child. As I get older I start to wonder how sick and depraved we really are as creatures on this Earth.

I sat with a group of my peers and, for the purposes of research, we attempted to determine how much money in American dollars a specific amount of pain was worth, when that pain amounted to death. It was a difficult conversation to have and I was shocked to realize that I the amount that I suggested–10 million dollars–was actually countered by some others for as low as one hundred thousand dollars. Now, I’m not at liberty to discuss the specifics of the case, but I hardly need to. Our country has become so litigious, and so materialistic that these conversations can occur and the legal application for the money awarded is to “make whole” the wronged party. Can money really make one whole? Can anything?

What is the value of a human life?

I wonder this, legitimately as our family in Israel sits in fear as missiles fly over head landing in ditches or being intercepted by the Iron Dome defense system. Counter missiles fly into populated areas full of men, women, and children–most of whom are not personally launching missiles just as their Israeli counterparts aren’t–living in the same fear. I rarely write about the Israel-Palestine conflict because, honestly, I don’t know too much about it. I know that I am Jewish, and that I have family there and those reasons alone leave me incredibly biased about the events that transpire and whose actions I consider to be right. As an American living in the times I do, with Extremist Muslim Terrorism as the bad guys of the day, my bias becomes compounded. War and battle of this sort, and the sides I am drawn to seem pre-determined.

As I ruminate on the matter more and more, even following the slaughter of four teenagers–three Israeli and one Palestinian–as a precursor to the attack I start to wonder if it really matters who shot John. The value of each human life, and the possibility of each human life is as equal as the next in the abstraction of things. Some make decisions that warrant their swift, and even mortal, punishment–I don’t disagree with that. When people become threats in expanding circles, their life does not outweigh the lives of so many others. But non-combatant by stander to non-combatant by stander? The only end result, it seems, of this conflict is the destruction of one or both groups.

I wonder about Holy Lands, and promises from Gods, and I wonder what is so Holy, what is the promise, and where is the God who created these lives just to have them thrown away? Is it hiding the gift of free will? Is it embedded in a divine plan that we cannot hope to understand?

I cannot say. I may not like the answer I give. I like to believe there is a reason for everything, but some things–things in all places, nations, and times to all religions, races, and creeds–just seem rooted in the lizard brain. Hateful, angry, territorial; dangerous.

What is the value of  war–an act of doing one thing to inspire the opposite? Is the value of the person’s life–their fears–the hope of peace? The peace of hope?

In our country, people die wrongfully, are injured, incarcerated for crimes they didn’t commit and their lives are compensated for monetarily…or not. We too, embark on wars and frighten non-combatants. Is it for peace? Are their lives more or less valuable than our own? I know that I hold my life, your mother’s life, your sister’s life, and your own higher than any stranger’s. Sometimes there is no choice but to react in violence…but are events about hard and fast truths or about perspectives? There are three sides to every story after all. The only side that hold’s great value however, is always our own, our groups, our nation’s, our people’s. Perhaps in our tribal hardwiring, that’s all there is. Perhaps there is a more universal value. But perhaps the value of a life is not in the definition of life as alive, but in the definition of life as living.

We hold up people who do not add benefit by any measure to anyone in the media, and leave scientists, teachers, police offices, doctors, firefighters, to be nameless faces or faceless names. We put economic buying power on a platter and we think that it is compensation for a first kiss, for a walk in the park, for a good joke, for bad case of the flu, for the birth of a child, and for the relief of grief. We consider an eye for an eye, and a dollar for a drop of blood. We never consider an act of kindness as recompense for an act of destruction.

Some acts, there is no recompense for. Some acts require war, demand vengeance, some acts require blood. But nobody plays the villain in their own story, and vicious cycles are born. Wars begin–military, gangland, domestic–because “I” am just and “you” must pay. At what point do wrongs and righting them become more valuable than a life? Does a life first have to be taken?

There are no answers here. Wars are fought, people die due to negligence or just plain accidents, the world spins and crushes some. The only answer I can find, is simple.

Do the best you can while you can.

Our time here and the good acts we make determine the value of our lives. Some disputes are bigger than us, larger than our ability to mediate, and are too soaked in blood to be resolved by anything but–not because there are no solutions, but because no others will do. Some people will try to make right, make whole, what is wrong or broken by means that do not add up, don’t fix the problem. Our actions, not money or might, determine our value. While none of us consider ourselves the villain in our story, perhaps the best thing is to be the best hero we can be in our stories. Work hard, help others, do good and do well, and always aim for honesty, integrity, and honor.

Our actions will always be viewed through a prism. Some will see them in one light, others another, and more yet in a totally different shade. We can’t help that. Some think Israel is an imperialist rogue apartheid state, others see it as a beacon of democracy in a dictatorship wrought region, I see it as the place where my family lives and I fear for their safety with every news break. I can ponder the big questions, and try to make sense of it or, I can carry you to bed as you’ve fallen asleep on the couch, and place you comfortably down. I can be thankful that you are safe, and do my best to support you and your sister in becoming decent people, who do meaningful things, and bring positivity to the world–in a way that allows you to define the value for your lives.

I can sort out the rest later, pray for the safety of my family, think of those grieving too soon, and leave good and evil to the theologians and the arm chair generals.

Perhaps when you are 25 and I am 50 this will have all played itself out for the best. Or at least to an end. I cannot say. Until then.


Your Father


PS- You’ve grown quite fond and quite good with playing video games. My nerd hearts soars as you ask questions, defeat your frustrations and build those hand eye coordination skills. You are a kind and sharing brother, as your sister Ayla is well into her second year and can be at some times, unreasonable. You share, sometimes even give up turns and choices entirely to make her happy and to sooth her. Other times you fight as siblings do. I enjoy every minute of it. Your conversations with her, and with adults leave me in awe, I love the people you are becoming. It is amazing to watch you bring forth the people you already are.

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  • GlennBerman

    Hello Jeremy & Ayla,

    Your dad seems a little melancholy today, lacking the bile of righteousness I often associate with his writing. I understand his depression of spirit as we live in uncertain times. your parents have much on their plate, with responsibility to feed, cloth, and keep a roof over your heads, all while seeing to your every need. Raising the future of the world is a 24/7 job even on shabbat and holidays, there are no days off to the love and care you are receiving. The day will come when Jeremy and Ayla will take their rightful place in the world and make the changes that past generations have failed in their fruitless efforts. The task to bring forth G-D’s promises lies in your hands. G-D has handed us, his children the reins, it will be up to you to pick up the reins and control the direction our world is heading. As your dad had mentioned Israel & Palestine are at war, there will be no end to it, useless of course Israel decides to march into the sea, I’m sure it is on the U.N. table of options for Israel. Lets face it we are Jews, and we are responsible for every bad thing in this world, how exactly does less than 1% of the total population of the world accomplish such a feat is beyond comprehension. Throughout history nearly every nation had it in mind to enslave or wipe us out altogether, not exactly sure what we Jews have done to piss off everybody but it must have been something bad. It is said we Jews are the chosen ones, as the character “Tevye” said speaking to G-D, in the play “Fiddler on the Roof”,

    “I know, I know. We are Your chosen people. But, once in a while, can’t you choose someone else?”
    Love Papi G

  • susanwk

    This is a very good heartfelt piece. I recognize your ambivalence and discomfort. As a Jew, I want to support Israel. As a liberal American, I find the conflict so fraught with contradictions it’s hard to openly do so.

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