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Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Grief and Numbers and Familiarity, and the Virtue of Hope

It is a truism that we are often more moved by one death than by many, that thousands of children dying half a world away somehow haven't the power touch us the way the story of a single child in the local paper.

There is a quote often attributed to Stalin, "One dead man is a tragedy, a million are just a statistic," (when, in consideration of the source,  it seems chillingly evil.)
But that is really an aphorism extracted from a more thoughtful, longer quote from Erich Maria Remarque’s The Black Obelisk that speaks to the human inability, sometimes, to grapple with too enormous realities.
It’s strange, I think, all of us have seen so many dead in the war and we know that over two million of us fell uselessly–why, then, are we so excited about a single man, when we have practically forgotten the two million already? But probably the reason is that one dead man is death–and two million are only a statistic.
And it almost goes without saying that that which is "closer to home," whether literally or figuratively, is more affecting --  as a rule.

But what of the heart and mind that begin to work in the opposite way?

What does it say when one is moved to tears, over and over and over and over, night after night, all throughout the day, by the tragedies piling up all around the world, the wars and threats of war, the sudden deaths and the inexorable dying, and not manage more than a perfunctory platitude and a prayer for someone one actually knows?

Is it that, having borne, having survived a grief one felt would nearly kill one, almost all deaths can be countenanced with equanimity, can be contemplated with the hope that is born of genuine faith in Christ?

Or is it really some kind of riff on Lear's outrage that "a dog, a horse, a rat [should] have life,. And thou no breath at all?" and a sort of cynical, (and sinful,) refusal to summon up any hope at all?

Oh, no, God, You're not going to trick me into asking for something again....

Is that it?

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