The New York Times (Sunday, 14 October 2001) carries a thoughtful and touching editorial. It talks about the series of brief obituaries ("Portraits of Grief") which the Times has been running, several each day, since shortly after the 11 September terrorist attack. At first the tragedy was a blur.

But as the portraits of the victims have appeared in print day by day, the resolution of what we have lost has grown finer and finer. Each profile is only a snapshot, a single still frame lifted from the unrecountable complexity of a lived life, and there is a world more to know about each of these victims, as their survivors understand only too well.

PD, my wife, observes how strikingly, overwhelmingly, awesomely, nice were the people who died. A cynic could dismiss that as selective reporting by obituary writers. But maybe it's real ... maybe ordinary people are genuinely much nicer than we normally realize, carried along as we are in the day-by-day avalanche of events --- until in a flash of destruction we view a frozen moment, an afterimage glimpse of how good our neighbors truly are.

The anonymous NYT editorialist concludes:

In a sense, these portraits map an America most of us know only intuitively. It reads, at first, as a map of loss. We see the houses left unfinished, the pregnancies that will never be carried to term, the engagements abruptly ended, the inexorable toll of chance as well as routine. But these profiles also offer a map of fulfillment. The bonds of family --- no matter how you define family --- are palpable in every story. The patterns of community service jump out. The generosity, the selflessness that emanates from these stories, is remarkable, and it makes the heroism of that day seem less surprising.

Most of us tend to believe that we know something of the world that we live in. But the effect of reading these profiles is to realize that most of us grasp only our own tiny corner. Portrait by portrait, we are learning the larger story of the world, the chance interconnections, as well as the necessary relations, that made a place like the World Trade Center function. We are learning, in a way we rarely ever have, where Americans come from, how they get ahead, and what they expect when they do get ahead. No one wanted to learn any of this the way we are learning it now, but the knowledge still comes as a gift.

TopicSociety - TopicLife - 2001-10-20

(correlates: StagesOfCredibility, AwesomelySimple, ExempliGratia, ...)