Public grieving becomes personal when we identify with their sorrow, confusion, and anger. It doesn’t matter if the photographs are of people in Boston, India, or South Africa. We are affected and feel compassion rise from within us because we are part of the same human community.
When innocent people are killed, this is a hammer tapping on a porcelain vase. It sends cracks shooting through our conviction that goodness is the ruling force in the world. “How could this happen?” we ask, as if we hadn’t been paying attention to news reports every day of new bombings like this occurring around the world almost.
The pressure cooker bomb? It’s the bomb of choice in Afghanistan. “How did we not know this?” We may take note of tragedies in far away lands being reported on the evening news, but then we go back to what we were doing, thinking, “How sad, another bombing in…” But if we see a photograph of the face or the limb that’s been blown off, then it becomes tangible and it affects us personally. We grieve individual people, not numbers.
For example, yesterday I read a poem by Brian Barker called “Dog Gospel.” In it a farmer takes the family dog and abandons it far from home where it suffers horribly trying to survive. A boy finds the dog, ties it to the ground, and watches as it slowly starves to death. I don’t know if Barker is writing about something that really happened or not, but it reminds me of real people in the world who deliberately hurt the innocent just to see how they react. It doesn’t matter if you call these individuals evil, mentally unstable, or sadistic, things like this happen far too often for me to dismiss it as isolated aberrations.