This is what dying looks like. This is what dying sounds like.
Face down in the sand, a little boy lies alone. Washed up on shore, he drowned with much of his family, sailing to find a better life.
On a Virginia morning show, the cheery banality of local tourism turns to horror in an instant, as a reporting crew is gunned down on the air.
Aylan Kurdi only lived to be three years old. After escaping the vicious bloodbath of the Syrian civil war, he and his family fled to Turkey. From there, they hoped to eventually make their way to Canada. Somewhere in the Mediterranean, the small boat they were using to try and make it to Greece capsized. Aylan’s brother Galip and mother Rehan drowned along with him. His father Abdullah made it back to shore, left to face his grief alone.
The image of Aylan laying in the sand is indelible. It’s on front pages all over the world. It filters through Facebook and Twitter seemingly every few minutes. The sight of a little boy in his red shirt and his little velcro shoes, lying dead on a beach is an indelible image. The kind of thing that you cannot unsee. There, in the sand, is what we’ve been ignoring all this time.
The sights and sounds on August morning on Virginia television are just as searing. Alison Parker was shot dead. Adam Ward, her cameraman, was shot dead too. The two were filming a segment for the local CBS affiliate WDBJ in Virginia when the gunman, Vester Flanagan, approached Ward from behind before opening fire.
It happens so fast and it comes entirely without warning. At one moment, they’re talking about tourism at the Bridgewater Plaza, then come the shots, and then the screaming. After the first two, maybe three shots, the screaming starts. It’s hard to say, I can’t go back and watch. It’s too hard, too sad, to watch again. Once was enough. But the shots aren’t important. One, two, three, it doesn’t make much difference, once you hear the scream. She’d been shot, live on television. A murder for all of us to see.
This is the world we live in.
Refugees dying at sea is not new. It happens every week, nearly every day. So too are people shot and killed daily. Murder is not new, nor is the horrible despair of refugees.
What is uncommon is the visceral nature of these images. Most days, when these kinds of stories are covered, photos will be of a distraught family, or maybe a body under a sheet, the photo taken at a distance. We are shielded from the worst of the violence, of the death, of the destruction of human lives.
We often avoid publishing these photos out of respect for their families, or out of common decency. But the world is not a respectful or decent place. It is full of people dying in horrible and unnecessary ways each and every day. These images are but a small sliver of the human suffering that goes on around us all the time, unseen and unheard.
So look at the photos. Look at Alison’s face the moment she’s been shot. Look at poor Aylan, no longer drawing breath. Look at the world for what it really is.