Sunday, January 17, 2010

Life and death

There is too much death.

Too much loss, too much pain, too much despair. Too much death.

Haiti overwhelms the senses; death closer to home overwhelms the soul. In between lies all the death that once flared across our awareness but is now mostly forgotten.

Death in Darfur, where famine and disease have become unimportant or at least invisible to us because they are not as bad as they once were even as attacks continue and 2.7 million people remain "displaced."

Death in southern Sudan, where people are murdered for their cattle and a peace agreement between south and north is on the verge of collapse.

Death in DR Congo, where over 100,000 people have been driven from their homes just since October in the face of an upsurge of violence.

Death in Somalia, where because of threats and violence the World Food Program has pulled out of the southern part of the country, leaving up to 1 million people without assistance.

Death in Iraq, a place where our attention faltered as soon as it was Iraqis doing the dying and no longer Americans.

Death in Afghanistan, where civilians killed are a quickly-forgotten headline about how the latest "incident" affects US "objectives" and exist only as guesses and estimates - even as those estimates were up by a third in 2009 over 2008.

Death in the rest of the twenty-one on-going conflicts around the world, most of which involve people who have been killed by the hundreds, the thousands, the tens of thousands and more, in fights of which we are but dimly aware - if at all.

And beyond even that, far beyond even that, there is the death that comes in bits and pieces, draining away life not in sudden huge chunks but steadily, like an opened vein, a life at a time, so steadily that we allow ourselves to forget it's happening, like a drumbeat in the distance that blends into the audio wallpaper - forgetting because to think of it too much is like opening our own veins.

Death like that of hunger, of malnutrition, of disease - of poverty. According to UN estimates, someone dies of hunger or a related cause every second, 36 million a year. Every six seconds, a child under five dies of hunger or a related cause. That's over 14,000 a day - and if the recent estimates of the earthquake's devastation prove accurate, that's a Haiti every week of the year. Every week. Every year.

There is too much death.

Yes, yes, yes! I know all about the "cycle of life." I know all about the philosophy of how if nothing died, nothing could be born. I know all about the fact that even in the face of all the wars and hunger, world population is still increasing and about the increased pressure on resources that is producing and will produce.

But when coming home to a rapidly blinking light on the answering machine can cause the heart to accelerate to match, when through that, that same heart is reminded anew that every death stabs at some heart, every death opens a wound in some soul, every death leaves a hole in some life, it still seems to be that there is just too much death.

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