Iraq: Word on Death

How do you write about death?  Too dark and you feel it too much; too light and you’re not getting enough gloom.  What are you supposed to feel, though?  Nine out of ten polled would probably say, “Sad.”  Sad for what?  “Sad that someone’s dead.”  Am I the only one who can see the hole in this circular logic?

On the one hand, if it’s someone I know, I will “miss” them, in that I will miss out on future moments we could have shared.  I guess we can broaden this out to someone I met, or might have had the chance to meet.  The opportunity for encounter is gone for good.

Which is exactly why I feel a pang of regret when someone dies that I might have met, whose company I might have enjoyed, whose hand I might have held.  But for the other six billion who will remain anonymous, why would I feel sorry?

I don’t mean that as a challenge.  I legitimately want to know why their death should weigh on my shoulders beyond some idealistic notion of universal fraternity.  For all I know that person may have tried to kill me, may have been plotting against me.  They could have been trying to save me, could have been reaching out.

See the uncertainty in this whole line?

I guess the only thing that’s concrete in this scene is the death itself.  Apart from the rare fake-out it offers little in the way of equivocation.

Here, today, it’s not like I knew the man.  His body was gone before I grabbed my camera and kit and walked over with a security detail.

Yet I am acutely aware of his end- that has to count for something.  I felt the boom and heard the gunshots that followed as soldiers returned the violent insult.  I saw where the bomb was placed, traced the path of the shrapnel, looked for any remnants of the device.  I was a part of the process, the after effects of that last moment.

Moment.  Moments?  How long did he take to die?  A second?  Minute?  Fifteen?  Death here can come in a blinding flash.  The truck bomb that went off in the same place three months prior, the bomb that blew out the windows of my room and ripped the door off its hinges, the bomb that was three thousand pounds of homemade explosives detonated by the driver… that bomb killed fifteen soldiers instantly, a few more eventually.

But tonight?  Tonight was small.  It was big enough for me to hear over Leonard Cohen playing peacefully on my laptop.  That’s respectable, at least.  It was probably just a bottle brew, some deadly solution poured into a two liter, dropped on the ground as the bombers blended back into innocent passersby.

Returning to my original question, how to write about death, I assumed that one should write about death.  But what right do I have?  I don’t even know his name.

Do I need to have a right?  The men who dropped the bomb didn’t know his name.

In the end, all I can conclude is that I have a lot of questions.  I’m sure his family has more.

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