Last semester a student in this class did a post on Emmett Till and categorized that post as “things that make me wanna cry.” Today, we read aloud Anthony Shadid’s essay, “In a Moment, Lives Get Blown Away” from 2003. We took turns reading the account of a bombing that took place in a residential neighborhood in Baghdad.
And here is why I rarely watch the news, read the news, or allow others to share the horror of our world with me (I usually tell folks around me who want to tell me about awful happenings to stop). These are things that make me wanna cry. I cannot understand the pain and shock of this sort of thing. I know that the bombing in OKC was as horrific as this… only it wasn’t something people had gotten “used” to–if that’s even possible.
I was in grad school when the bombing happened in OKC. I was home for lunch and sitting down to eat a lovely burrito I’d just made when I thought, “I’ll watch the news while I eat.” That was the wrong move. I cried until I was ill and didn’t eat a bite. I had to return to classes shortly after my break and showed up with puffy eyes and a splotchy face, but I wasn’t the only one.
What Shadid describes–lives being blown away in a moment–helps me recall that person I used to be when I was strong enough to face the world and the news that hurt and shocked me but which made me hopping mad and willing to do something about it. I protested when I was younger; I worked for political campaigns; I wrote editorials for newspapers; I worked for my college newspaper; I was the editor of a college newspaper; I was a faculty adviser for a college newspaper. I am now on the student publications board at my college. I have some part of my life that’s still committed to writing and memory in public through public texts, through freedom of the press.
BUT the thing is that I still hide from reality as much as possible because the kind of reality Shadid brings to light hurts. “I’m in pain” he says a bombing victim uttered over and over. I’m in pain, too, but I’m ashamed that I am when compared to that man who was bombed. I don’t want to look away, to turn away, but I do a lot. I focus on teaching writing, on teaching British literature, on being a writer about life, not death, not war, not destruction.
AND here’s another thing: I spent 12 years of my life researching the circumstances of the 1st and 2nd wars of Italian independence (1848 and 1859) as context for my dissertation work. Twelve years. I was immersed in war and destruction. Two particular battles I studies in 1859 were responsible for the founding of the Red Cross and the color of magenta–you know, the color of blood. I studied those battles with a fierce dedication but a total disconnection from what destruction could be wrought.
Now, I can barely face the carnage of modern warfare. Is this because so many more citizens, not soldiers, are killed? Am I wrong to assume that war has crossed the boundaries of the battlefield and annexed the life of regular folks? I can’t remember all the history it might benefit me to own right now, but Shadid has done really incredible thing for me as a person: he reminded me that people just like me, just like my students, just like my friends are the casualties of war and terrorism.
What a shame that our world hasn’t gotten over itself and its greed and insulationist tendencies in the 21st century. When will this change? Will the future be more peaceful? I hope so.
Perhaps writers who remind us of the worst of war will be the reason for a peaceful future. I hope so.
I hope so.