When the unthinkable, the horrific, the unimaginable happens. How are we supposed to take it? When I was a child I would annoy my father by asking him how much a human life is worth. Was it $100, $1000, or $1000,000? He had trouble trying to explain to me that there were some things which were "invaluable", yet at the same time they can vanish as if they were meaningless. The sky will not weep, the world will not stop revolving for them. The greatest love story that never was, the death of the valiant hero before he could make a difference, the deliberate starving of a people in a world full of food, or the corrupting of a person morality. We can feel this loss brutally in our chests, this loss of something so valuable that nothing can compensate for it.
Thursday, January 07, 2010
About 8 years ago I worked with a 17 year old work experience girl called Nicola. She was a bubbly, cheerful and completely mad girl whom everybody loved in the office. A mixed-race girl, she had grown up in Britain's evil council estate system, the product of a broken home, yet determined to make something of herself. I remember we took her to lunch once and bought her a steak lunch. She wrinkled her nose and said the meat tasted funny, that it didn't taste like McDonald's. We laughed at her innocence and told her this was real meat, not the processed rubbish she had been used to. One night Nicola finished her work as she always did, she waved at me, cheerfully telling me to have a good evening. The next morning we got a call that she was dead. Stabbed in a pointless and stupid dispute. I bottled up my emotions and went to the lavatories, where the tears streamed down my cheeks. At that moment, in that grief, I felt I would have given absolutely anything to bring her back again. Anything. But there was nothing I could give that would bring her back, it was over. The world did not stop revolving, the seasons came and went, and Nicola's ashes are long scattered or perhaps in an urn somewhere.
The ancient Greeks were infatuated with tragedy, with this idea of finality and loss. The early Muslims also experienced this, when they listened to the Qur'an and cried when reminded of their mortality, of their judgement, or of the profoundness and wisdom in timeless justice. Life carries on, and there will be more tragedy, but the lesson we must remember is that tragedy imparts wisdom on us. Through tragedy we grow as people, as human beings. If we lived our lives only for fun, only for pleasure, or in song, what good does that do for our souls? No, we must have winter just as we must have summer. Only when we accept both equally will we find peace.