The Stories in Tragedy: Manchester Dogs Home

My daughter woke up in tears at 3am this morning (that’s another post) and it took a long while to calm her back to sleep. When I finally made it back to bed, I had to check the downloads for my latest Baby Blues free promotion (they’ve been amazing, but that’s another post too) and I happened on a tragic story unfolding in Manchester.

Yesterday evening a fouteen-year-old boy allegedly set fire to the Manchester Dog Home. The home houses around 200 dogs and at least a quarter were killed in the blaze.

I reluctantly confess, despite being a dog lover, my initial response was that it wasn’t a tragedy on the scale of Syria or Gaza or the 9/11 anniversary.

It disgusts me, now, in the cold light of dawn, how numb I have become to tragedy.

Then I started reading the news feed – in reverse – and became involved in the emotion of it. The story behind the headline.

It’s what Humans of New York has done for every strife-ridden country it has visited as part of the UN Tour: tell the stories and you humanise the victims. You create room for empathy and the headline is no longer a number, a statistic. The dispassionate historian in me gives way to the writer. That is the power of stories.

As I read about the awful truth of trapped animals yelping in fear, I cried. When I read about the people of Manchester and beyond turning out in their thousands with crates and blankets and offers of help I felt lifted by the knowledge that there is still some good left in humanity. The online fundraising account started by the Manchester Evening News has raised a staggering sum overnight (donate here) and my faith in the world is somewhat restored.

But then I read some of the comments about the 14-year-old suspect. Comments like ‘he should hang’, and ‘he should burn’ and I think, what about his story? Don’t get me wrong, I think it was a despicable act and he should be punished. But, fourteen? What happens in a child’s life that leads him there?

And that’s the parent in me talking. That’s listening to my daughter sob at 3am, “Mummy, I just don’t know why I’m so sad,” and fearing she’s inherited my depression, god help her. That’s seeing every tiny thing that shapes my children and feeling guilty for most of it, while trying to remember they are people in their own right and it isn’t all my fault.

I’m shocked and dismayed by the boy’s behaviour, and six years ago I would have let him burn. But meeting hate with hate isn’t the answer, although I don’t know what is. My first response is to want to give him a hug, as I would my boy, when he does something stupid that incurs my wrath and says, “I don’t know why I did that, Mummy, I’m sorry.”

All I know is the emotions left me feeling like I might fly apart. There isn’t room inside me for all the contradictory empathy, the love and loss and hope and disappointment and, above all, the need to understand. The world was easier when it was hero and villain, good and bad, black and white.