What Loren Jade Smith’s story teaches us about how to respond to victims.
We have it in us, America. What if we responded to everyone like we responded to this young Oakland A’s fan?
I was scrolling through Twitter moments when I came across the story of Loren Jade Smith. Loren lives — lived— in the Santa Rosa area of California; his family lost its home in the fires that have ravaged the state. But Loren, a 9-year old fan of the Oakland A’s, seemed to be more upset about a bigger loss.
In a heartbreaking letter to the Oakland A’s written with the earnest innocence of a 9-year-old, Loren shares how he played baseball all day in his pre-fire backyard, “making up my own game,” and how the A’s “won six world seris [sic] in a row.”
Then the fires hit and his house burned down, which was sad. But not as sad for Loren as what he lost in the fire. As he explains,
Local reporter Katie Utehs shared Loren’s heartbreaking letter to the Oakland A’s.
— Katie Utehs (@KatieUtehs) October 15, 2017
I have a nephew the same age as Loren, so perhaps I’m predisposed to feel for this kid. But something about his story really touched me. And that’s before I saw the responses.
How Twitter Responded
Apparently I wasn’t alone in feeling compassion for Loren. Loren’s story quickly went viral, and people from around the country mobilized to help.
Oakland A’s president Dave Kaval responded:
— Dave Kaval (@DaveKaval) October 15, 2017
In a separate tweet he said they were reaching out to the family to help replace Loren’s collection, and the team later posted an address at which it is collecting donations of memorabilia for Loren and his family.
Several Major League Baseball teams and players also jumped in, tweeting pictures of packages they put together to send to Loren. This article by Whitney McIntosh has a great round up of the teams sending memorabilia to Loren.
As amazing as the response from the A’s and other MLB teams was, what really captivated me was the response from the “regular people” who immediately stepped up to offer a piece of their own collections to Loren.
People like Brett Matthews, who offered “as many A’s baseball cards as he can handle” and Nancy from the South Bay, who offered boxes of her son’s A’s baseball cards.
Many more people jumped on board as well. These were simply the first few I saw.
Seeing how people have responded to Loren stayed with me. In the midst of a dark period for our country, this was a rare bright light.
And I couldn’t help but wonder:
What is it about this kid that captured everyone’s attention?
There has been no shortage of heartbreaking stories coming out of northern California. The fires demolished entire towns. People lost homes, jobs, pets, and lives. Coming on the heels of the hurricaines, and of the tragic shooting in Las Vegas, it’s almost more than we can bear.
What is it about Loren Jade Smith that triggered this response from strangers?
Perhaps it’s his innocence. He’s just a 9-year old kid.
Perhaps it says something about baseball’s role in America; maybe it still is the national pastime.
Perhaps, as McIntosh wrote, this story was easier to focus on than some of the more awful stories coming out of Northern California.
Perhaps because, unlike with other recent tragedies, people felt like they could do something tangible to help. Loren gave a face and a name to the unidentifiable suffering of so many others.
Perhaps because helping Loren didn’t require anyone to wade into issues of policy or debate the merits of his behavior.
And maybe that’s just it:
Notice that nobody judged him.
Nobody blamed him. I didn’t see anyone post comments that Loren or his parents should have put his collection in a fireproof box.
Nobody asked him to prove that he lost his collection.
To be clear: this is as it should be.
I am not questioning whether he deserves our compassion.
I am merely noticing what happened. I am observing how people responded, and how they didn’t respond.
A human being lost something he held sacred — a piece of himself — in a devastating event. He shared his loss and pain in public. Strangers from across the country immediately responded with compassion and generosity.
Interesting to see what’s possible.
So, what makes Loren different from others who have shared stories of loss and pain?
We can point to his age, the fact that his loss resulted from an unexplainable natural disaster, the fact that it’s easy to replace the “stuff” he lost.
That’s all on the surface.
Loren is a worthy recipient of our compassion because he is a human being.
The only difference between Loren and other victims who have been in the news lately is that the urge to judge some victims has been stronger than the urge to respond with compassion.
Loren Jade Smith isn’t different. He just seems different because he’s a 9-year-old baseball fan and not a movie star alleging sexual assault. He was the victim of a fire and not a gunman.
Generosity of Stuff vs Spirit
Granted, not every person’s pain can be solved by taking up a collection of baseball memorabilia. But the outpouring of generosity that responded to Loren’s pain was not generosity of stuff.
It was generosity of spirit.
We can give that to everyone. A smile. A shoulder. Our presence.
We can listen, and hear. We can look, and witness. We can acknowledge, and feel..
A Field of Dreams
Imagine what might be possible in our country, in our world, if we responded to every victim in the way that people responded to Loren.
Imagine if our standard response to every fellow human in distress was empathy, compassion, generosity and kindness, rather than judgment and blame.
Imagine if our automatic response to the news of the day was not which side am I on? but how can I help?
In the end, we are all on the same team.