The news from Brussels recently has been horrifying and sad. The ubiquitous photographs of both carnage and heroic acts have filled all forms of the media. We are saturated with the wanton loss of innocent people, we are appalled at the disregard of human life exhibited by the bombers, and we experience a sense of defiance and strength in vowing justice for those who perished or were maimed. As we enter a second week of questions, we are coming to terms with yet one more senseless act.
History is full of them, of course. They are events which at their white-hot moments trigger the full range of our most intense emotions. They are incidents about which we are inclined to say things like, “Never again” or “We will never forget.” But we do. The passage of time or the passing of the generations eventually relegate even the most searing instants to dulled history, to be analyzed instead of felt, assessed rather than cried over. Perhaps that is a good thing about our species, that we cannot retain the rawness of the moment for very long.
Among the images from Brussels are photographs of the deceased. They appear to be common folk. There were no kings or world leaders or super-wealthy among the dead; there rarely are when it comes to such events. The faces are even familiar: they are largely a microcosm of European and Western cultures, an ethnic mix of men and women, young and old, people we might meet on the street or in our neighborhoods. They are reminiscent of you and me. Everyman/Woman. News organizations have come to use the individual photograph as a means of making the event more real to us, trying to personalize an event that otherwise might be too remote to elicit the drama and emotion of an important story. I appreciate the use of photos, but I wish there would be more of it.
For there are other faces in the news over recent weeks and months and years that we have not seen. They are the countenances of other victims from places that are less familiar to you and me. Places like Syria and Pakistan and Iraq and other locations. Bombings and deaths have occurred in these places, too, often without provocation or design, other than the obliteration of whatever sense of civility may exist within our nations. The losses in these places are no less devastating than those we grieve in Brussels.
In particular, we have learned a great deal about the lives of the four U.S. victims in the Brussels attacks. It’s appropriate that we have a final opportunity to know even slightly the fellow citizens who will no longer be among us, to catch a glimpse of the lives that are no longer available to solving the important challenges of humanity, to imagining what they might have brought to the world. It is primarily through such reflection that we might begin to fully internalize the losses we have incurred, and thus the insanity of policies that use indiscriminate death and destruction as supposed solutions to conflict. In Brussels, we have lost some thirty-five potential “pieces to the puzzle,” souls and creators who we will never regain.
Just like the seventy- primarily women and children- who were lost this past weekend in Pakistan. Or the thirteen in Istanbul before that. Or the eight in Jakarta. Thirty in Burkina Faso. Twenty-nine in Ankara. And so on. Perhaps these do not strike us as newsworthy, because there were so many, or the events were so far away, or because there were no U.S. or European victims. We can be myopic at times, in the same way that we did not acknowledge the destruction of life in Nicaragua during the years of the U.S.-backed Contras. (Still don’t know about that one?) The places are easy for us to overlook.
But of course, they shouldn’t be. For within every statistic mentioned above, there was a face and a story, a hope and purpose, a gift and a potential. When we are afforded the chance to see the beautiful and happy faces of people who died in Brussels, remember, too, the losses which continue to degrade all of us from all corners of the world….