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One Small Loss of a Little Girl – One Major Loss for Mankind

The photograph before me displays one small example of the horrors of the present day that affect us all.  The scene is but one small portion of the tragedy that came to the Lebanese port city of Sidon on July 17, 2006 at the hands of an Israeli air strike. 

             In the picture, a distraught medic holds the lifeless body of a tiny girl, perhaps not more than five years of age. Her mangled body is frozen in the rigor of death and her hair is matted with the soot and ashes which somehow seem to have missed the shreds of her little blue dress.  Underneath the soot, ashes, and caked dry blood, her face is like that of a child sleeping, if you can call death sleeping.  I flash back on the childhood memory of a time when our dog shook and mangled one of my little sister’s dolls and left it in the mud. Except for the blood, she looks like that doll.  The medic is holding her out for the world to see, while below her is her little blanket, printed with the images of Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters.  I imagine she once nestled under it, covered by the magical characters that stimulate a child’s imagination.  The blanket now covers the upper half of another body, presumably a parent. The magic and that child were shattered.  And for the sake of our own sanity, we must wonder why.

             At least for the sake of my own sanity, I must wonder why.  I have seen scenes like this many times over, as a young helicopter ambulance pilot in Vietnam – even as a Red Cross volunteer serving at Ground Zero. The question has haunted my dreams at night and returned to me with every outbreak of war.  How does a person, or a nation, conclude that its interests and right to existence include the right to destroy the innocent to punish those perceived as guilty?  Those lose the most who have least to gain from the fruits of war – and it has ever been thus.  And the question returns. Why have we not learned that war is not a solution for resolving human differences? 

            The examples are among us, yet how many of us pay attention and take those examples into our own lives.  It was the Hindu saint, Gandhi, who was inspired-enough by the teachings of Jesus to live them in a way that led to the liberation of India.  It was Martin Luther King, inspired by Gandhi’s example, who led the Civil Rights Movement to success through non-violent protest.  The Palestinians and the Tibetans are two peoples driven from their homelands, yet the former turn to self-destructive violence, while the latter live as an inspiration to the world with their peace and harmony.

            We must be courageous-enough to look at the ravages of war – at armed conflict as a method to resolve human differences – to see it for what it is: complete and utter mass insanity. We must really look at what war does to us – to all of us, because nobody escapes the ravages of war.  History is full of the accounts of young soldiers who went off to war and returned with the wisdom of this truth.  How can we look at the image of this little girl and find a way to justify her death?

What if the vast majority of us – those who have the most to lose in the event of war – adopted a zero-loss tolerance with respect any effort at resolving human differences?  It must begin with our understanding that life is so sacred that none should perish to serve the interests of another.  History will continue to teach us this lesson until we learn it.  This comes by our learning from the hard-earned wisdom of those who have experienced war.

             The 17th century metaphysical poet, John Donne, came to this awareness and expressed it eloquently in his little book of Devotions.  As a young man onboard ship, he had been witness to the Earl of Essex’s fleet of warships blasting the Spanish port of Cadiz into virtual oblivion.  Through it all, day and night, the church bells rang out simultaneously the warning of the attack and the knell of those who had perished.  Many years later, as he struggled in the throes of malaria, it was the ringing of those bells and the lessons they symbolized that inspired Donne to write these famous words, virtually lost for three hundred years until his book was discovered and republished on a large scale early in the last century:

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.

            I cannot think of an example that more eloquently expresses the concept of zero loss tolerance, and why we must embrace this as a foundation to approaching the resolution of human conflict. Put another way, ultimately, there is no them; there is only us. William Golding’s character, Piggy, in his novel, Lord of the Flies said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

When we look at the death of that tiny girl, in yet another port, in another time, in the manner that John Donne learned to perceive both the frailty and the sanctity of the human condition, we can readily see that losing her diminished all of us – that her fate is ultimately our fate.  We can see that the scorched, dismembered body of the Lebanese man lying in the street, the mother crushed under the rubble of her kitchen in Haifa and the young soldier who traded his ideology for fatal wounds who at a later age would have traded it for wisdom – the loss of all of these and many more has diminished all of us.  

How many more of us do we have to sacrifice to this mass insanity? When is the best time to call a truce? What price shall we pay for turning away from the body of one little girl, shattered in the crossfire of war like a broken doll?   

Granville Angell   © 8/2006

Granville Angell, EdS, LPC, NCC, a licensed professional counselor with 30 years experience, invites readers to submit questions for his column to his web site: www.transitions-counseling.com .  He may be reached at his private practice, TRANSITIONS Personal & Family Counseling Services by emailing angell(AT)transitions-counseling.com.      

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