Thursday, December 3, 2015

This Is Not a Prayer

Like you, I am horrified, outraged, ill--about the body count; about the destruction in Paris, Lebanon, Syria, Colorado, California; about the millions of other terrors that are happening now, at this moment, invisibly . . . behind locked doors, in cheerful neighborhoods where no one predicts torture, in wild landscapes far from television cameras, in places and minds where brutality is quotidian, not breaking news.

Like you, I am unable to concentrate on the body count. I woke up, made coffee, crabbed at my son for missing the bus. Nothing I did this morning changed because people are dying, because people are killing.

Of course it is too late to stop the gun problem in the United States. I dare say every one of my own neighbors already has too many guns. Bucolic small-town life, with AK-47s. It could be a Christmas card. But someone in this town is bound to die soon--a back-talking woman, a heroin-addled grandfather, a toddler digging into his mother's purse. Someone is bound to die.

We all imagine we're safe.

We all imagine we're under siege.

In her 1945 novel The Heat of the Day, Elizabeth Bowen describes the atmosphere of London during the blitz. Night after night, Nazi warplanes dropped bombs in parks, on buildings. People died daily. Neighborhoods were obliterated. The sound of death was the backdrop of daily life.
The night behind and the night to come met across every noon in an arch of strain. To work or think was to ache. In offices, factories, ministries, shops, kitchens, the hot yellow sands of each afternoon ran out slowly; fatigue was the one reality. You dared not envisage sleep. Apathetic, the injured and dying in the hospitals watched light change on walls which might fall tonight. Those rendered homeless sat where they had been sent; or, worse, with the obstinacy of animals retraced their steps to look for what was no longer there. Most of all the dead, from mortuaries, from under cataracts of rubble, made their anonymous presence--not as today's dead but as yesterday's living.
And what has changed in the 70 years since Bowen published those words? Nothing. London in 1940 is today in Aleppo.

Of course the only way to stop the killing is to kill the people who are doing the killing. That is the narrative of war. The plot is as neat as a fairy tale's. In the meantime, a baby and her father drown in the Aegean Sea.
These unknown dead reproached those left living not by their death, which might any night be shared, but by their unknownness, which could not be mended now.
The known dead reproach us also.

We woke up, we made coffee, we crabbed at our children. Some of them will die before we smile at them again.

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