Sunday, May 26, 2024

Quote of the Day (Margaret Renkl, on Why Tragic Tales ‘Hinge on Specificity’)

“Human beings are storytelling creatures, craning to see the crumpled metal in the closed-off highway lane, working from the moment the traffic slows to construct a narrative from what’s left behind. But our tales, even the most tragic ones, hinge on specificity. The story of one drowned Syrian boy washed up in the surf keeps us awake at night with grief. The story of four million refugees streaming out of Syria seems more like a math problem.” —Essayist Margaret Renkl, “The Unpeaceable Kingdom,” in Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss (2019)

This weekend, as we observe Memorial Day, the truth of Ms. Renkl’s comment is borne out anew. It’s hard to understand the toll that the Vietnam War took on America, for instance, when we read the statistic that more than 58,000 U.S. soldiers died in the conflict.

But, to hear how even one soldier became a casualty makes a huge difference in understanding the sacrifice that individual made and the continuing wound his loss represented to those who loved him.

The same applies elsewhere in the world, to victims of strife (as in Gaza) or human-rights violations (Ukraine, in the face of the Russian invasion).

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