Dying to tell the truth

22 Feb

Syria. What a mess. The tragedy unfolding on our TV screens is becoming more bloody and horrific every day – each story more horrific than the last. I can hardly bear to watch the latest updates on the news. This is a country desecrated, human lives discarded. Hope is, it seems, being strategically and systematically eliminated.

Marie Colvin died in Syria today. A Western journalist, she worked for the Sunday Times and was completely committed to reporting from the front line of conflicts worldwide. She died so that we could know the truth, so that we could not plead ignorance, so that we could not ignore the horrors of war. She died telling the truth. Only yesterday, she witnessed the death of an two year old child injured in the shelling. Only yesterday, she was alive and telling us all a story. A story we desperately need to hear.

Marie Colvin was incredibly brave. In 2001, she lost an eye, having been hit by shrapnel in Sri Lanka. Yet she stood fast in her determination to tell the truth about brutal regimes, to inform the international community about wartime horror. She knew that someone had to shine light in the darkness, to tell the stories of ordinary lives destroyed by hatred, greed, and pride. Simply stated, in her own words, “our mission is to speak the truth to power”.

Yet what of the other lives lost today in Syria, the ones we will never hear about. The locals. The “unimportant” people. Those with ordinary lives. Lives disrupted forever by carnage and the abuse of power. Is one life ever worth more than another? As Marie herself said,

“For my part, the next war I cover, I’ll be more awed than ever by the quiet bravery of civilians who endure far more than I ever will. They must stay where they are; I can come home to London.”

She knew, I think, that every life is infinitely precious. Is this something the rest of us often forget? Many of us find it far-too-easy to walk past the homeless alcoholic, passed out on the street. We have far less compassion for those we deem the “deserving poor” – the man who gambled away all his money and now has no food to eat, the pregnant teenager in an abusive relationship, the street kid who steals to survive. We seem them as “different” and end up having a sense-of-empathy failure.

We judge, before we know the whole story. We fail to really hear the stories of those different from us, those whose lives are blighted by poverty, pain and bad choices. We see the mistakes, yet fail to understand the brokenness that fuels such choices. We write people off before we have shown them the dignity each human being deserves. We write them off and fail to listen.

Each of us has a story to tell. The West delights in the mundanity of the lives of “celebrities”, stories of the rich, powerful and successful. Yet our shared humanity requires us to truly listen to those whose voices are obscured too. Such a belief led Marie Colvin to incredibly dangerous places, so that she could listen and tell us what she had heard. She died telling the truth. What an extraordinary, brave woman.

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