As we survey the highlights and “lowlights” of human history, there is a category of achievements (or achievements’ opposite) which have been classified as “dubious distinctions.”
Especially now that baseball season has started, we may recall the obituary of Randy Jackson, who died on March 20 at age 93. His New York Times obituary noted that he hit the last home run for the Brooklyn Dodgers (Sept. 28, 1957, at Philadelphia) before the team found itself playing home games in Los Angeles. The Times called this a “melancholy achievement.”
This “dubious distinction” did not even register with Jackson himself until the 1990s, when one of his sons phoned him to say that the exploit had been the substance of a trivia question on Good Morning America. “The last Brooklyn Dodger to hit a home run … was me. I did not know that myself till then.”
I use this preface, on Palm Sunday, to lead up to a report of a “dubious distinction” of my own.
I once was beaten up in Jerusalem.
This is a dubious distinction, for a number of reasons.
For one thing, I would not want to scare anyone away from visiting the Holy Land. Even with all the problems of coexistence in this region, one can be assured that tourists rarely meet with violence. Once, I mentioned my mishap to a former editor of The Jerusalem Post, who was disbelieving. “Things weren’t bad in 1983,” he replied. (Some readers may recall that I made a safe return visit in 2013.)
In brief: On the afternoon of April 3, 1983, Easter Sunday, I was returning to my hotel alone (I was traveling with fellow seminarians of Rome’s North American College) when I noticed a little more excitement than usual in the Old City, and was set upon by kids who beat me on the head and right arm.
Providing any details whatever about this incident tends to move it into “dubious” territory. So, for instance, I received my head wound just south of the corner of the Fifth Station of the Cross on the Via Dolorosa, and was escorted by onlookers — who cried in English, “We’re sorry! We’re sorry!” — just a few footsteps’ distance, to the hospital located at the corner of the Third Station of the Cross, where I had two stitches put into my head and ended up staying overnight.
It gets “dubious” when listeners take such details and begin to run with them. So, you bled where he bled, people are likely to say. My own thoughts, in the immediate aftermath, tended to run in this direction.
But, fairly quickly, I realized that this was not the meaning of this event. In fact, I found that the meaning of the event must be found by turning the emphasis completely around.
Our world continues to be filled with sufferings which are far more grievous than what I experienced 36 years ago. While I was being attended to at the hospital, a doctor told me that more attacks were taking place, and that an elderly woman, similarly attacked, would not survive. We are well acquainted with people suffering in the Middle East and all over the world — including in our own country.
What matters is that Jesus saved us by entering fully into human existence. Besides walking to his execution, Jesus accompanies all human beings in all our sufferings. He has bled where we bleed. That is what matters. That is what we celebrate during Holy Week and the Easter triduum.