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Reflections, Ramon Das
Hello and good evening. I'd like to thank you all for being here tonight, and I'd like to thank Edwina Hughes for organizing this event. I doubt that I could improve on the informative and uplifting address that Margaret Mayman has just delivered, but I'd like to take this opportunity to enlarge on one of her themes - the universality of grief - by offering a somewhat more personal reflection on Sept. 11 and its aftermath.
Last week I gave a talk to Wellington Peace Action on the current situation facing Iraq, and on what we can do about it here in New Zealand. It was an informative and empowering discussion, and I left with the hopeful feeling that there must surely be many more humane and committed people in this world than one is usually led to believe. Upon arriving home to my partner, however, this feeling evaporated, as I immediately saw on her face that something horrible had happened. And then she told me: the unborn baby of our dear friend, who lives in Washington DC, had inexplicably died in the final month of pregnancy. It was the sort of news that stops you in your tracks and makes you forget everything else. We sat together for some time trying to make sense of it, and trying to think of something to say.
It wasn't until later that night, lying in bed, that I began to connect the two events of my evening. It occurred to me that no level of concern for strangers living and dying in Iraq could begin to match the feeling I had experienced upon hearing of the death of my friend's unborn child - let alone the grief that she herself must be experiencing. And yet, of course, each of those faraway strangers presumably has others who care about them in just that intensely personal way. I thought, in particular, of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children who have died because of UN-imposed sanctions. It was staggering even to try to imagine the extent of grief that the deaths of those children have brought - and continue to bring - to their parents and other loved ones. And then I thought of our vastly different reactions to the deaths of innocents that others have rightly called attention to. On one hand, our attention is (properly) directed to the victims of Sept. 11 and the grief and suffering of their loved ones. On the other, the far more numerous deaths of other innocents - in Iraq because of sanctions, in Afghanistan because of US warplanes, and throughout the world because of simple lack of clean drinking water and food - continue to go mostly unnoticed.
It's not possible, nor would it be desirable, to try to take in the overwhelming grief that surely attends the death of each and every innocent who dies because of war, sanctions, or global poverty. Fortunately, that degree of empathy is not necessary to begin to make the changes to our world that need to be made. I don't know the best way to go about this, but perhaps a start can be made with the realization that the suffering and grief that each of us has had experience with at some time in his or her life is, indeed, universal. It is sometimes hard to remember this, and often easy to forget it. But it may be essential if we are to succeed in bringing about a world where all persons can enjoy peace and basic dignity. Thank you.
Dr Ramon Das