Monday, October 3, 2011

The Sadness of Strangers

We writers are a sick bunch. There are myriad jokes about how authors use others' pain and suffering to enhance their writing. We see it, study it, stir it around until we can turn tragedy into text.

I am guilty of the same, to a degree.

On my bulletin board above my desk, I have a newspaper photo of a young woman from the earthquake a couple years ago in Italy; she's being helped by EMTs. Either the victim's legs were crushed or she's just lost a child. There is no blood visible, but if you can imagine for a moment the pain of having your heart ripped from your chest without anesthesia, well, that's the look on her face.

But do you want to know what compelled me to cut out the picture and hold on to it for this long? The victim has the most beautiful hands, more beautiful than a hand model. It's the contradiction, the unfairness... Or, maybe it is fairness. Every person, every life has good and bad, triumph and tragedy. I'm not saying that beautiful hands make up for what has just happened to her, but they lead me to believe that before the earthquake, she had a comfortable life filled with people whom she loved. I see her face everyday and wonder how she is and hope that she has recovered from what happened that day.

One of my husband's favorite sayings is: Nothing is good or bad except by comparison. Perhaps that's why we write—to offer comparisons so that our readers' lives don't seem so bad. Or, to help readers understand that they are not alone in their suffering.

Maybe we're not such a bad bunch after all.

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