A More Equal Victim

It is Dec 24th, Christmas Eve and it is a good time as any to reflect on the happenings of 2008. Immediately what comes to mind is the recovery of the fifth and, hopefully, last victim of the landslide in Bukit Antarabangsa in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Her name was Mary. She was a Sri Lankan maid. One can imagine how those last moments may have been for her.

Was she awakened by the horrifying “loud boom” as described by witnesses? Did she then find herself trapped, in severe pain and shock, gasping for air and struggling to claw her way out? Might her first thoughts have been about the three children under her charge (later rescued) or her own home and family back in Sri Lanka?

Indeed, we know so little of Mary, an immigrant who left behind a family, a mother, a father, possibly siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces and grandparents, who will moan her sudden and tragic loss. But the epitaph of Mary sorely needs to be written.

For her story is our story. It is the story of a person, lacking education, employment or financial access, striking out for strange shores to seek out a better life, in order to survive and maybe thrive.

Mary’s death may not even deserve a footnote in our history, as most of us are mere voyeurs to the tragedy of Bukit Antarabangsa, the same way we would be to a pileup on the highway.

The media persists to refer to the 14 destroyed houses as “bungalows” – and not as they, more accurately, should be called “homes”.

I guess to call them homes would connote they were once filled with real people who were loved and cared for, not the materialistic troves of branded stuff and locked safes of the indulgent.

Overheard at a recent house-warming was the callous commentary: “Well, rich people who want to live up in the hills had it coming.” Or worse still “It was all karma, they got rich through suspicious and corrupt means.” Our knee-jerk, defensive disdain suggests a deep psychosis.

If the landslide happened in a squatter area full of illegal immigrants, among whom was one named Mary, would we have cared?

Need we step back only a generation or two or three, to realize that we are all descendants of those who struggled to make this place our home, even as some of us continue to chase bungalow-sized dreams.

Do we not all share the same aspirations for a better life on a daily basis?

Why do we continue to bicker over the preferred rights of some over others? Aren’t we all of common immigrant stock, no matter which boat we came on, or when that arrived? More rights for some only makes it seem all wrong for others.

We should care – really care – for those among us who suffer – whether they be rich or poor, working class or marginalized, citizens or immigrants. For it is the same boat we’re all on, and we sometimes have no control over the tides or storms that befall us. Victims, of whatever standing, we all matter.

In the darkness, buried under rubble, and heaving her final breaths, might Mary’s last thoughts have been: “Please someone care enough to find me. I matter.”

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