Sunday 24 February 2013

Without words, without writing and without books there would be no history, there could be no concept of humanity - Hermann Hesse

I lost a glove this week. Not an exceptional glove. Certainly not an exceptional event. Only it’s very annoying, isn’t it? It’s black. Goes with everything. Has been with me for a jolly long time. 

I hate losing anything. Consequently, I don’t do it often. This particular time, I took the glove off to read my book on the bus. I lay it in my lap. And never saw it again. I’m tempted to go to the bus company just in case they have it. But it’s just a glove, right? And yet loss is such a waste. I am impatient with myself for being so remiss. So very careless. I went home that day with a cold hand and heavy heart.
And so how ridiculous do I feel today? When I stepped out of my Classics Club challenge and stepped into reality.  Which is rarely a good move. Reality being rarely a happy place...
I read Missing Lives.  A series of accounts of individuals who lost family members during the war in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990’s. The term “lost” being somewhat banal here, you understand.  As though they too had simply been careless. But Missing Lives is so far removed from anything banal. The lives it recounts are lives that were taken. Stolen. Thrown aside. Many families have never received news of those missing. They live in limbo. In a strange and unconvincing hope.
How can I care so much about a lost glove when there is much greater loss elsewhere?  And indeed not that far away?

The interviews were compiled by Nick Danziger and Rory Maclean along with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). They make a harrowing read. I have no idea how they stood before these people and heard what they said. Never mind had the courage to work on it over and again for publication. Detachment is impossible.
And yet we need such accounts. The tears we shed over these few pages are necessary. They give form and life to all the meaningless numbers and statistics anaesthetising us to the terrifying events we hear of year on year. They could be the experiences of mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters of any conflict at any time. 
How do people who have lived through such unimaginable horrors carry on living?  And with such dignity? That must be the humanity that survives the inhuman. That must be what we are striving for...

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