14 May 2009

Grieving in public

A student at my school recently suffered a very tragic, very public loss. The event affected everyone on campus to some degree, but few people were as involved as this student. A few nights ago, I went to see a choir performance featuring this student's group. I was very impressed when she walked out on stage with the rest of the choir: Though her skin was sallow and her hair matted, she had the brave face of someone staring down impossible demons. To me, her sparkly dress and colorful scarf indicated that she was not ready to give up. She smiled few times during that performance, always in response to some unexpected event, as though the surface of her sadness cracked just enough to let her former happiness bubble through for a fleeting moment.

As I grow up, I become increasingly aware of life's transience. The choir performance reminded me of a post by Average Professor last winter when her graduate student was killed in a car accident; that post brought back memories of last summer when a friend was killed in a sudden, unexpected, bizarre way. I've tried, while reading news stories, to internalize the death counts: Twenty bombing victims means 20 fathers straining to maintain composure at their child's funeral; 100 friends gathered together, saddened and confused; 200 teachers, bosses and co-workers shuffling quickly past an empty desk. The numbers are staggering; they force us to filter the sadness, often by similarity to ourselves (I admit, I feel less sorrow over foreign lives lost than I do over American lives, despite my sincere efforts to counteract this tendency). The magnitude of loss and suffering is too great.

I know this post is personal and very sad, and I've considered keeping it private. I'm going to share it anyway, because it's important to me to have some memory of the brave faces people put on when they're forced to grieve in public.

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