March 13, 2006
How would you fill in the blank? What comes to mind when you picture the opposite of love?
If you chose “hate” as the opposite of love, you have Merriam-Webster on your side. Their exhaustive list of antonyms is a litany of hate: abomination, hatred, loathing, rancor, allergy, animosity, antipathy, aversion, disfavor, dislike, abhorrence, disgust, repugnance, repulsion, revulsion, misanthropy.
Yet, as much as I respect Merriam-Webster as an authority on language, there is a word missing from their list.
In 1964, 38 residents of a Queens, N.Y., failed a test of love. In the following days, weeks, and months, as their story was repeated in the news, no one could find any example of hate, dislike or revulsion in the hearts of these people. Yet, as the ultimate example of man’s failure to love, this story has lived on for over forty years.
On another March 13th, in the middle of a quiet night, “along a serene, tree-lined street in the Kew Gardens section of Queens, New York City, Catherine Genovese began the last walk of her life.” Twenty feet from her apartment door, “she took notice of a figure in the darkness walking quickly toward her.”
Court testimony at the trial held three months later confirmed the news stories that had shocked a nation. One neighbor, Miss Picq, said that she saw Catherine Genovese lying in the street. “The poor girl got up slowly, walking to the parking lot,” she said tearfully. “I heard two last screams for help, but couldn’t see her then.”
Another neighbor, Robert Mozer testified that he had yelled at the assailant. “I hollered, ‘Hey get out of there! What are you doing?’ He jumped up and ran like a scared rabbit, took off real quick,” Mr. Mozer told the court. But the attacker returned.
In all, 38 neighbors of Catherine “Kitty” Genovese let her brutal murder occur without as much as picking up the telephone to call the police. Over thirty minutes passed. Kitty was stabbed 17 times under the windows of her neighbors.
“We thought it was a lover’s quarrel!” said one tenant. “Frankly, we were afraid,” said another witness. One woman who didn’t want her name used said, “I didn’t want my husband to get involved.” Others had different explanations for their conduct. “We went to the window to see what was happening, but the light from our bedroom made it difficult to see the street.” There were lots of excuses. Maybe the most apathetic was the person who told reporters, “I was tired.”
Kitty’s murder has become a textbook case for sociologists, psychologists and criminologists. They have their theories. They have their explanations. Dr. Iago Galdston, a New York City psychiatrist said “I would assign this to the effect of the megalopolis in which we live which makes closeness very difficult and leads to the alienation of the individual to the group.”
You could say that. It’s just that Dr. Galdston, with all of his fancy words, misses the key explanation.
The indifference of these people was just as effective as the rage of the attacker in bringing about the death of Kitty Genovese. They failed to love.
Love is known by its action, not its feeling. Indifference, “marked by a lack of concern for something,” is the ultimate choice to let harm happen because we are not moved to love another human being as ourselves.
Love that leaves us unmoved by the need of another human being is more than the absence of love. Indifference is the opposite of love.
Jesus said love one another. He didn’t say love the whole world.
October 15, 2004 – Where’s Poppa?
October 22, 2004 – Bringing Poppa Home
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