The recent shooting in the American town of Newtown left the whole world in shock and I was not an exception.
To be honest, the first time I read of the shootings I was quite saddened but then I moved on with my daily tasks. However by the time the faces of the victims kept flashing across the television screen, I could no longer just see the incident as another inhumane event. As the newscasters elaborately told the story of each and every victim, they stopped being numbers and started to have faces, smiles, hopes and a future, albeit now aborted.
I began to imagine the possible futures of the victims. I noticed their features- from the school principal and the glow in her skin to the little boy who had some front teeth missing to the little girl with the blue flower in her hair. I imagined their personalities. I thought of their families and what they would do about the christmas gifts they might have already keenly wrapped and placed beneath the tree.
In my own way, I began to grieve for children I would never know. I grieved for their futures and the loss their loved ones would have to find a way to cope with.
Then my mind flew over to Africa. I recalled the four undergraduate students wrongfully mistaken as thieves and tortured, then burnt alive in Port-Harcourt Nigeria. I remembered the graduates who had returned home to serve their country as National Youth Services Corpers only to be killed in Northern Nigeria in the most creatively gruesome ways possible.
I thought about how these victims would remain impersonal to most of the public. Why did no one tell their stories over and over again until they were burnt into our collective consciousness? Were people afraid of what might happen if the wound was opened for all to see? Were their stories not considered newsworthy? Were there too many stories to tell? Would it be a waste of time to go over each and every one of them, and much more efficient to simply flash a number along with a picture of a bunch of mangled corpses?
I noticed that in the story of New Town, civil society, the media and the President all took ownership in constructing the collective story. Instead of seeing their corpses we were shown lively pictures of the fallen as their stories were told. Now teachers will have something worthy to aspire to- to be selfless enough to imagine giving their lives for their students. Now little Grace’s parents are shining examples of fortitude in the midst of pain. Now we see heroes where we might have only seen victims. Now we know their names and their stories and yes, it won’t bring them back, but it gives the living respite from an otherwise completely depressing narrative.
Mourning our dead is a one-of-a-kind opportunity to collectively engage in social construction of our shared reality. As we mourn together, we come together, we collectively ask questions that cannot be answered, we let ourselves be vulnerable and share our wounds with one another.
While one might not find the point in this seemingly futile task of mourning, it is good to remember that we are a species always on the hunt for meaning. It might seem easy to simply brush our wounded collective psyche aside, but it is never that simple. If no one takes the lead in properly telling our stories of pain, then our stories might fall into less responsible hands that might construct stories of hatred, despair, apathy and despondency which would be dangerous especially for our youth- the upcoming ones.
We mourn our dead for the living. When we take ownership of the stories of our dead, we take ownership of the narrative the younger generation will believe. Instead of leaving them to construct narratives of despair we can employ generative thinking in steering them to see the heroes in our own stories of pain and loss. We can help them keep hope alive. When we begin to tell our stories of pain together, we might begin to heal together and find a stronger sense of life and meaning even in the midst of death and meaninglessness.
There is a task for us all in employing our generative faculties to weave a story that is deeper than just pain. In situations where we must face the worst in us, we must be ready to engage it with the best in us.
Telling the stories of our fallen then, is an art that would do us well to properly employ.