In 1978, or thereabouts, I was in a crowd waiting to go through an entrance for a concert by Emerson, Lake & Palmer. With a fence surrounding the venue, and only one doorway, as the fateful hour of access arrived, thousands of excited fans pressed toward the porthole, pushing for the opportunity of a good seat, awarded via first come-first served.
Then it happened. Just 15 feet away from the constricted passage, the pressure rapidly and exponentially grew from all sides. With good friends and total strangers pressed impolitely into my body, my chest cavity could not fully expand, and I was finding it hard to breathe.
Unable to move my legs as the pressure mounted, my foot caught an ashphalt lump in the ground and I began to tilt over.
Seeing anxiety well up into my face, and my head and shoulders steadily dropping from view, somehow Brian, one of my good buddies, clutched at my jacket and yanked me upright.
To this day, I am certain that he saved my life.
He also saved himself from the reality of being the first to trample a terrified young man to death.
Just a few days ago, Jdimytai Damour, a holiday employee at a Long Island WalMart, was crushed underfoot by a “mob” of shoppers bursting through a glass door in hot pursuit of bargains that ultimately cost a man’s life.
I suspect a search will be on for the ones early inside the establishment, as they will be held responsible for Mr. Damour’s tragic death. Having not seen the store security video, it may be right to lay blame at the feet of the very first.
Yet, if Brian had been unsuccessful and I had been killed while nearing the lone entrance for a concert, it would have been my best friends inflicting the initial injury. And there is nothing they could have done to stop.
You see, it may well be that the real culprits who killed an unfortunate employee were standing well back in the crowd, far away from view and any subsequent pleas to stop. At 5am, as they pressed forward, even lightly, they combined with many others to create a force at the front, so irresistible, even the best of intentions would have been instantly swept aside by an ugly, almost glacial inertia.
No one can easily or morally absolve those who knocked a poor soul down to his death. But nor can we presume to know what was in their hearts. Indeed, there are times when our collective presence creates an unspeakable pressure focused upon and directed through individuals impelled completely beyond their own power.
Indeed, the folks fashioned as an unrecognizable and crazed mob by the media may well be more familiar to us than first imagined. For in the vast bureaucratic sea of modern society, we too may sometimes find ourselves being the point of an incomprehensibly sharp spear, piercing the hearts and lives of those whose only culpability is that they stand near us.
Whether in middle-management of a company that cannot sustain its present workforce, or in uniform, enacting the sentences meted out by our highest courts, there are those in our world who are often called to carry out that which we cannot bear to conceive. They stand at the front, compelled by inexorable force from above and behind.
As they stand conveniently at the front, they are often the object of our instant and manifest disdain. Perhaps they should also be the recipients of our most fervent prayers.
Regardless of their personal culpability, whether at the front, or well behind, all of those who were in any way connected to the trampling an innocent man on Long Island, causing his death, will forever be forced to bear the heavy weight of taking his life.
Thus in the very midst of celebrating the arrival of a Redeemer, we are shown that, truly, we need a Redeemer. Perhaps He is One Who needs to save us, not only from the sins we commit against others, but also from the ones we ignorantly take upon ourselves.